January 7, 2010 / 6:42 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. to delay release of anticipated broadband plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will delay submitting its highly anticipated National Broadband Plan report to Congress by one month to better digest all the data and public input, an FCC official said on Thursday.

The report, a framework to promote affordable high-speed Internet access and use among Americans, is due to be submitted to Congress on February 17, as mandated by President Barack Obama’s massive economic stimulus package.

“In order to ensure that there is sufficient time to more fully brief commissioners and key members of Congress, to get additional input from stakeholders and to fully digest the exhaustive record before the agency, the chairman has requested from congressional leaders a short extension of four weeks in order to deliver the final plan,” Colin Crowell, senior counselor to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, said in a statement.

Rebecca Arbogast, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus, said the delay has little impact on the markets and instead might help smooth the implementation of the plan down the road.

“The additional time spent briefing key Washington officials on the front end will help smooth the process on the back end,” she said.

Key Democrats in Congress backed the delay.

“Chairman Genachowski has indicated that a short delay is necessary to qualitatively improve the plan,” Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Rockefeller said in a statement.

U.S. Representative Rick Boucher, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on communications, technology and the Internet, said he looks forward to receiving the plan in March and will holding hearings on the recommendations.

Led by a team of agency officials and outside consultants, the U.S. communications regulatory agency has held numerous workshops to discuss barriers and benefits for consumers and companies.

The FCC is slated to meet on January 20 to discuss several items including an update on the broadband plan.

Genachowski has said the plan will include recommendations to reform the $7 billion Universal Service Fund, which is paid by a telephone tax to help low-income and rural communities maintain access to telephone service.

He wants to lower payments and instead refocus the fund to help Americans access broadband services as more consumers move away from traditional phones to mobile handsets.

One of the major issues the FCC is grappling with is how to define broadband in terms of speed.

In submissions filed with the FCC last year, the biggest broadband providers, including AT&T Inc, Verizon Communications Inc and Comcast Corp, argued for minimum speeds that were substantially below many other nations.

“Speed matters,” Genachowski said on Wednesday when asked during an interview with GigaOM, a technology blog, whether the FCC wants to promote a “meaningful” definition of broadband, even if it means lower profits for the providers.

“I can’t tell you that we’ve figured out the solution completely and I can’t tell you that we’ll figure out the solution to this perfectly by the time we do the National Broadband Plan,” he told GigaOM. “This is really hard.”

Robert McDowell, one of two Republicans on the FCC panel, expressed disappointment with the delay.

“Once we receive a draft plan, I hope the document will reflect the benefit of the additional time being taken to prepare it,” McDowell said.

Editing by Andre Grenon and Steve Orlofsky

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