* Equipment makers, mobile services look set to benefit
* FCC seeking power to auction broadcasters' spectrum
* Unwilling broadcasters may be forced to give up spectrum
* House panel to hold March 25 hearing on the plan
(Recasts first paragraph with specific speed increase, adds
access numbers, further plan details)
By John Poirier
WASHINGTON, March 15 U.S. regulators released a
blueprint for upgrading Internet access for all Americans, with
Internet speeds up to 25 times the current average, expanded
coverage and more airwaves for mobile services.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission plan released on
Monday comes as the Internet increasingly delivers everything
from telephone service to movies, music and banking services.
Nearly 200 million Americans had fast Internet access at
home last year, but about 100 million do not, says the FCC
document. "Like electricity a century ago, broadband is a
foundation for economic growth, job creation, global
competitiveness and a better way of life."
Requested by Congress, the plan of over 350 pages looks set
to touch off intense lobbying by communications companies over
legislation and FCC rules that will underpin the goals.
A shift in airwaves from broadcasters like CBS Corp (CBS.N)
could benefit wireless providers like AT&T (T.N) and Verizon
While upgrading the nation's wireless and wireline networks
would be a boost for companies like equipment maker Alcatel
Lucent SA ALUA.PA, wireless chip maker Qualcomm (QCOM.O) and
fiber optic providers like Corning Inc (GLW.N).
Several elements of the plan had emerged in the past few
weeks but the five members of the FCC are due to vote Tuesday
on issuing a summary of "Connecting America: The National
A House Energy and Commerce Committee panel will hold a
March 25 hearing on the FCC's proposals.
A Connect America Fund would receive up to $15.5 billion
over the next decade, using money shifted from the Universal
Service Fund that currently supports telephone service for the
poor and rural areas.
The plan aims to have 100 million American households get
Internet speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) by 2020 -- a
speed that would allow a consumer to download a two-hour,
high-definition movie in less than 10 minutes.
As an interim goal, the plan calls for 100 million U.S.
homes have 50 Mbps Internet speeds by 2015.
The current household average speed is about 4 Mbps. Even
homes with cable or fiber Internet access only achieve speeds
averaging 5 Mbps to 6 Mbps.
Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O) recently announced it would
introduce a router that can handle Internet traffic up to 12
times faster than rival products. Google Inc (GOOG.O) has said
it plans to build a super-fast Internet network to show that it
can be done. The FCC has praised both announcements.
The plan stresses the need to devote more airwaves to the
anticipated explosion of handheld devices capable of playing
movies and music in addition to handling emails and voice
The agency says it is seeking expanded authority from
Congress to hold auctions that would provide incentives for
broadcasters to give up some of their airwaves for purchase by
The FCC said it would leave open the possibility of taking
action if broadcasters do not voluntarily give up spectrum.
Analysts said meeting even the FCC's 50 Mbps interim goal
would likely take a lot more investment by companies like AT&T
and Qwest Communications International Inc (Q.N).
"Five years from now it would be tough for them to get
anything of any size done," said Stifel Nicolaus analyst
Christopher King, "they would really need to start today."
Some analysts have also been skeptical about whether the
airwaves reallocation would appeal to broadcasters unless the
FCC offers them a big percentage of the auction proceeds.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told Reuters on Friday that
"a number of broadcasters" were open to his "win-win" plan,
which would have them give up airwave licenses for auction in
exchange for receiving a share of the proceeds.
Verizon Wireless is a joint venture between Verizon
Communications Inc (VZ.N) and Britain's Vodafone Group Plc
(Reporting by John Poirier; Additional reporting by Sinead
Carew; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)