Williams: FCC Internet plan both novel and misguided

Who remembers dial-up Internet? The waiting, the clogged phone lines, that evil sound of your computer eating itself in an attempt to connect.

As Geneseo students who have access to wireless Internet, we can all say that it has come a very, very long way in our lifetimes. This month, the Federal Communications Commission presented a bill to Congress that will try to take Internet a bit farther on a national scale.

The National Broadband Plan, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, aims to provide high-speed broadband Internet access at 100 megabits per second to 100 million homes in America by 2020. Schools and hospitals will ideally operate at 10 times those speeds, and all emergency responders should be able to maintain wireless communication with each other and with hospitals.

So how is the FCC going to pull this off? The government plans to buy broadband spectrum from TV broadcasters and redistribute it to areas without an Internet network. Also, the Universal Service Fund, a pool of $8 billion that is funded by charges on phone bills, will be reformed to gradually transfer the subsidies from telephone technology to broadband Internet expansion in poor, rural areas.

The FCC presents all of this information, appropriately, on Broadband.gov, a really cool Web site that is definitely worth fiddling around with if you have time. Once I got past the nifty interactive Web site, however, it became obvious that the results of this plan are a long shot, and that's putting it optimistically.

First of all, almost all of this is going to require commitment and bipartisan support from Congress. That's a joke. Additionally, existing broadcasting companies, notorious for their lobbying might, are not going to take this laying down.

Secondly, this act is ridiculously ambitious. Reforming broadband and increasing the efficiency of everything from school and hospital records to online carbon footprint tracking is not going to be accomplished with a single piece of legislation.

An article in The New York Times claimed that according to the cable industry, 50 million American homes already have broadband access, and another 50 million are expected to follow in the next five years. This information makes the FCC's goal of providing access to 100 million homes in the next 10 years look kind of insubstantial.

This plan is also sacrificing internal competition for international competitiveness. Sure, American industry and infrastructure would benefit tremendously from nationwide high-speed Internet access, but what is going to happen to all of the private providers? The industry definitely needs to be examined because there are only a few internet providers that own spectrum, which means they can get away with questionable quality and high prices. Nationalizing the entire industry? That requires caution and very careful planning.

Finally, how comfortable are we investing billions of dollars into technology that is going to be outdated in a few decades? A generation ago people were praising the telephone as technology that could connect America and give us an international edge, but now household landlines are in the same category as dial-up.

The FCC has a good idea, but I am definitely comfortable waiting for a more practical plan and better technology.