U.S. regulators released a blueprint for upgrading Internet access for all Americans, with an emphasis on speed, expanding coverage and freeing up more airwaves for mobile services.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission plan, unveiled in full on Monday, comes as the Internet increasingly delivers everything from telephone service to movies, music and banking services.
Moves to shift airwaves from broadcasters like CBS Corp and Sinclair Broadcast Group could benefit wireless providers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless, the joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc and Britain's Vodafone Group Plc.
While upgrading the nation's wireless and wireline networks would be a boost for companies like equipment maker Alcatel Lucent SA, wireless chip maker Qualcomm and fiber optic providers like Corning Inc.
Some elements of the plan had already emerged in the past few weeks and the FCC released its Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan ahead of a Tuesday meeting by its five commissioners where they will vote on a summary.
Congress, which asked the FCC to make recommendations on the status of broadband in the United States, will be formally presented with the plan on Tuesday.
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 of over 350-pages 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.
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 calls.
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 wireless companies.
The FCC said it would leave open the possibility of taking action if broadcasters do not voluntarily give up spectrum.
A panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a March 25 hearing on the FCC's plan.
Broadband is the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century, Henry Waxman, chairman of the full committee, said in a statement.
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.
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.
(Reporting by John Poirier; Additional reporting by Sinead Carew; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)