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FCC broadband czar defends national plan

Blair Levin says unreleased broadband plan will meet all Congressional mandates

March 4, 2010 11:28 AM ET

Computerworld - The chief author of the National Broadband Plan yesterday defended it against recent attacks that it is overly broad, ambitious and unfeasible, and said he is confident the final version set for release March 17 will meet the enormous mandate set by Congress.

"The priorities set [by Congress for the plan] were broad in scope," said Blair Levin, executive director of the Omnibus Broadband Initiative created last year by the Federal Communications Commission. "It may be the broadest mandate any agency has ever gotten from Congress."

While the plan is not finalized, various specific pieces of it have been released by FCC officials in recent days, including one that asks TV broadcasters to voluntarily provide unused airwaves, or spectrum, for wireless broadband Internet uses. The broadcasters would share any profits gained from broadband use on the donated airwaves.

The plan also calls on Congress to spend up to $16 billion to create radio interoperability among emergency responders and suggests that another $9 billion be spent to extend fast Internet connections to rural areas.

In a wide-ranging telephone interview with Computerworld, Levin agreed that the plan is inherently broad, including three U.S. priorities for broadband deployment: bolstering the economic infrastructure of the country; spurring broadband innovation and investment; and bringing access to broadband technology to everyone in the U.S., including the 92 million people in the country now without access to high performance Internet connections.

"Most of the publicity about the plan has focused on getting more spectrum but a major concern of ours is using mobile applications for public safety, healthcare ... and general innovation in the economy," he said.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 directed the FCC to create the broadband plan. The Act required that the plan meet lofty goals of offering a way for all Americans to have access to broadband, and including strategies for using broadband services to advance national priorities such as energy independence and efficiency, education, job creation and entrepreneurial activity.

US. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., authored the Recovery Act's broadband plan and has been the principal sponsor of the Internet Freedom Preservation Act legislation still before Congress.

Markey issued a statement in mid-February saying he was "heartened" after getting a preview of the Broadband Plan.

Levin, a chief of staff of the FCC in the mid-1990s, was named broadband czar in mid-2009 following the installation of Julius Genachowski as FCC chairman. The National Broadband Plan is already being called Genachowski's National Broadband Plan. Input from the five FCC commissioners has been solicited, though approval of it does not require their vote.

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