If a recent episode of The Communicators on C-SPAN is any indication, party lines could again be drawn, this time on the formulation of the National Broadband Plan, regarding issues of government mandates versus free market enterprise.

When asked about the development of the proposal, released by the FCC last week, House Commerce Subcommittee on Technology Ranking Member Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) said, "The two Republican commissioners were told about it but were not involved in the actual development." He expressed concern that no details have been released about the number of people hired from outside the FCC and how much they were paid.

"Here in Congress lots of times there is hidden agenda unless you know who the participants were and what they were paid, you really don’t know, perhaps there could be a conflict of interest," Stearns said.

Regarding the specifics of the plan, Stearns questioned government interference on several counts, saying, for example, that instead of guaranteeing broadband access with taxpayer money, the government should be encouraging lower prices. "If we allow the market to work, the cost of broadband will come down, just like the cost of computers (has)."

He also didn’t like a proposal that would require a company to unbundle itself into one that owns fiber optics, one that invests, and one that sells. "This would create a lot of angst in the market."

From the other side of the aisle, the subcommittee’s Chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) highlighted four aspects of the FCC’s plan: reform of the Universal Service Fund, the repurposing of spectrum, targeting speeds of 100 Mbps data rates, and ensuring interoperable communications for public safety agencies.

To achieve the last, revenue from auctioning the D Block portion of the 700 Mhz spectrum would be used, but Boucher said additional money would be needed.

"The commission has recommended general appropriations…As difficult as it is to obtain appropriations for new projects, this is an area where we could obtain bipartisan cooperation," Boucher said.

The topic of net neutrality also came up during the half-hour segment. Stearns was "relieved" the concept wasn’t really addressed in the plan, but Boucher said he is committed to tackling the issue with legislation. "We are working toward a set of understandings that hopefully we can embody in statute," he said.

-Monta Hernon

The Daily

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