FCC taps academia to provide broadband study ahead of national plan

As part of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act President Barack Obama laid out a specific vision for broadband Internet access. One of the key requirements of the President’s National Broadband Plan is a detailed strategy for achieving and ensuring affordable and universal broadband access by all citizens of the United States.

The Recovery Act also requires a plan be developed for the use of broadband infrastructure and services in advancing other aspects of the public good, such as consumer welfare, civic participation, public safety, education and economic growth.

Tasked to carry out this vision is the Federal Communications Commission, along with several other ancillary agencies and commissions. But before much of the policy framework can be organized, an analysis of the most effective and efficient mechanisms for broadband deployment must be developed. To do this, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University recently announced their plans to conduct an independent expert review of existing literature and studies about broadband deployment and usage throughout the world.

According to Seth Young, Communications Director for the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Professor Yochai Benkler and his team will be taking a rigorous, objective look at broadband deployment and related issues.

“We’ll be casting an exceedingly wide net to take a cold look at the evidence,” Mr. Young said in an interview. “We want to separate the wheat from the shaft and summarize,”  the information that exists about broadband deployment.

The Berkman team will start by looking at literature and studies about how broadband is deployed in the United States. “International, comparative studies are valuable, but we’ll start close to home…with what’s being done in the U.S.”

The FCC is planning to have the National Broadband Plan drafted by February 2010. “We’re not making recommendations [with this report], but rather providing an objective review,” Mr. Young said. “In order for that to be of use, it has to be done in the fall. We’re on a super accelerated time line.”

“It’s exciting to be part of the process,” Mr. Young said, adding the final report will be made public upon its completion.

Non-profits, Wikis get involved

In addition to receiving help from academia, the FCC also has multiple non-profits and social media outlets devoted to helping policy makers craft the national broadband plan.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project is among the more established names in how the Internet impacts society, and have been producing monthly reports on the societal effects of broadband. But others such as E-Democracy.Org are taking a slightly different approach.

E-Democracy.Org has launched a Natinoal Broadband Plan wiki page to promote civic participation through the use of broadband, one of the Recovery Act’s broadband requirements. The goal of the wiki page is to crowdsource parts of the National Broadband Plan by giving the public a place to collaborate. So far, resources, studies and articles about civic participation and broadband make up the base content.

“Crowdsourcing the National Broadband Plan requires a crowd,” Steven Clift, executive director of E-Democracy.Org, said in an email exchange. “Folks on the inside will notice what is produced, but will those with value to add take the time to share?”

“[P]utting up a wiki page is the easy part.”

For more information, visit:
Berkman Center for Internet & Society
US Democracy Online Exchange

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