FCC Broadband, Cybersecurity Overhaul Plans Include New ‘Fees,’ Auction

Published October 5, 2010

Responding to the congressional directive calling for development of a National Broadband Plan, the Federal Communications Commission is proposing a massive overhaul of the nation’s cybersecurity and wireless broadband public safety infrastructure, paid for by auctioning broadcast “D-Block” frequencies and instituting what the agency is characterizing as bandwidth user fees.

“We’re always concerned when the FCC announces they’re tackling something that Congress should be doing,” said Mike Wendy, director of Mediafreedom.org. “The FCC plan is really a shell game for raising taxes as well as doing other things Congress hasn’t given them the authority to do. In fact, one half of the plan contains actions the FCC has no authority to do on its own.”

The goal of the National Broadband Plan (NBP), according to the FCC, is to ensure broadband coverage across the country, which it says can be employed to encourage “consumer welfare, civic participation, public safety and homeland security, community development, health care delivery, energy independence and efficiency, education, employee training, private sector investment, entrepreneurial activity, job creation and economic growth, and other national purposes.”

The FCC proposal makes several recommendations for greater federal government intervention in the public safety and cybersecurity infrastructure. First, the FCC recommends creation of a nationwide broadband infrastructure that can be used by federal, state, and local governments during a state of emergency. This sort of infrastructure would vastly increase the response time of first-responders and emergency personnel during a crisis, the FCC argues.

Selling the D-Block
In order to execute its proposal, the FCC will renew its effort to auction the “D-block” portion of the commercial spectrum. In 2007 the FCC failed to license this portion of the spectrum because potential buyers failed to submit the minimum bid.

Now, however, the FCC is hoping an incentive-based partnership might attract an organization interested in investing in the project. By allowing commercial interests the ability to commoditize technology developed for the public safety spectrum and secondary access to the D-block for commercial purposes, the FCC hopes to draw the commercial interest needed to use the D-block for public safety communications.

To manage the upgrade of the D-block, the FCC created the Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC), a commission charged with defining interoperability parameters and developing the necessary security technology to operate and protect the public safety spectrum. 

‘Minimal Safety Fee’
Deployment of ERIC will cost an estimated $12 billion to $16 billion over the next decade. To pay for this, the FCC recommends soliciting fees from state and local governments benefiting from the creation of such an infrastructure. The FCC also proposes a “minimal public safety fee” on all broadband users.

In addition to creating a public safety broadband network, the FCC plans to address cybersecurity concerns through the creation of a “cybersecurity roadmap” intended to address the top five cybersecurity concerns facing the nation and provide a two-year plan for solving any existing problems. 

In addition, the NBP proposes several new cybersecurity measures requiring broadband service providers to report network outages; develop (with the Department of Homeland Security) a voluntary information reporting system for service providers to accumulate data on cyberattacks; investigate the ability of the nationwide broadband network to survive an attack; and provide priority bandwidth to public safety communications.

“The FCC has a lot of plates in the air,” Wendy said. “They’ve taken on a lot of ambitious projects, some of them legitimate, including the D-Block auction.” 

Public Service Access Point
As part of the NBP, the FCC also proposes the development of a “Next-Generation” (NG) 911 service.

In most communities, emergency services—police, fire departments, and ambulances, for example—are reached through a Public Service Access Point (PSAP). As the first responders in an emergency, it is vital that they can be reached quickly and conveniently and provide that emergency information to other organizations—such as the Department of Homeland Security.

However, many PSAPs do not have broadband Internet access and have limited information-sharing and communications abilities. To address this, the FCC plans to expand the current emergency broadband network to include all PSAPs and provide systems for allowing easy communication between these centers as well as provide a public alert and warning system able to respond quickly and efficiently to emergencies.

FCC Plan Has ‘Many Flaws’
Wendy acknowledges the FCC cannot please both pro- and anti-regulation camps with the NBP, but he says it should at least recognize the limits of its authority, which would entail leaning further toward deregulation instead of expanding the scope of its regulatory oversight as the NBP does.

Wendy said the commission should focus on its core functions and “provide clarity” for providers who have “successfully operated the market-based Internet experiment for the past 10 to 15 years.”

He concluded: “The NBP is a hodgepodge to begin with, as it contains many flaws, of which the most obvious is the FCC’s seeking to expand its authority with questionable plans and studies, looking to accrete rather than deregulate, and recommending fees that are really nothing more than hidden taxes.”

On the Internet:

Emergency Response Interoperability Center Home Page: http://www.fcc.gov/pshs/eric.html

“Second Memorandum and Opinion Order,” Federal Communications Commission: http://www.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2010/db0923/FCC-10-174A1.pdf