Communications regulators submitted to Congress a national broadband plan that aims to expand access, increase Internet speeds and shift airwaves to mobile services.
The five members of the Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved on Tuesday a summary of the plan that will need action by Congress, the commission and the communications industry to become reality.
Its recommendations include boosting Internet speeds by up to 25 times the current average, freeing 500 megahertz of airwaves for mobile broadband services over the next decade and pouring billions of dollars into subsidized service for the poor and rural areas.
The Senate Commerce Committee has scheduled a March 23 hearing on the proposals. A panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is due to examine the plan on March 25.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is expected to testify at both hearings.
Details of the plan were released on Monday. It comes as the Internet increasingly delivers everything from telephone service to movies, music and banking services.
FCC officials have repeatedly said that the United States lags countries in Europe and Asia in terms of adoption rates and Internet speed.
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.
Congress requested the report as part of the economic stimulus bill enacted in February of 2009.
The plan also proposes that broadcasters like CBS Corp give up some of their airwaves for auction to wireless broadband providers, with broadcasters getting some of the proceeds. The FCC wants additional authority from Congress to conduct those auctions.
I think we'll seem them (the FCC) move quickly, on the details of the spectrum reallocation plans, said Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs at the CTIA wireless trade group.
CTIA represents AT&T Inc; Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc; Sprint Nextel Corp and Deutsche Telekom AG's T-Mobile USA unit.
FCC officials declined to say which of the recommendations they will tackle first. The FCC is scheduled to hold its next open meeting April 22.
Today marks the beginning of a long process, not the end of one, FCC member Robert McDowell told Tuesday's meeting.
Public interest groups largely voiced support for the plan but urged the FCC to focus on fostering competition to drive down prices and drive up speeds.
This will require confronting the market power of the cable and telephone giants that control the broadband market, Free Press Executive Director Josh Silver said in a statement.
The problems caused by the lack of competition are what led the Congress to order up a National Broadband Plan, said Silver.
(Reporting by John Poirier; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)