Implementation schedule for FCC actions released

The FCC has released its tentative calendar year 2010 schedule for implementing those aspects of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) that fall under its jurisdiction. We had complained when the NBP first came out that the FCC could usefully have identified those goals that it could achieve on its own and those objectives that require legislation or action by other administrative agencies to accomplish.  Now the FCC has thoughtfully and in detail resolved our complaint.

The “2010 Broadband Action Agenda” lists more than 60 different rulemakings or other agency actions which are or will soon be in the pipeline in furtherance of the Broadband Plan.   The items are helpfully color-coded and related by cool icons to the FCC office that is responsible for the item.   We especially appreciate the blank box that sits next to each item waiting expectantly to be “checked off” when the item is completed. (For a less glitzy but more colorful PDF version of the agenda, click here.)

While it is wonderful to see the FCC moving aggressively to issue orders and initiate proceedings in furtherance of its Plan, we need to remind ourselves that launching a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is a far cry from actually reaching a final decision. Some of the rulemakings on the agenda, such as USF Reform and Intercarrier Compensation, have stumped the FCC for nearly a decade. There is no reason to be particularly hopeful that placing them on an agenda – even a color-coded one with actual calendar quarters on it – will cause them to be resolved quickly.  Indeed, the very breadth of the NBP and the major across-the-board restructuring of the telecommunications landscape it contemplates may require starting over from scratch on some industry issues that have proven remarkably intractable in the past.

It’s especially disheartening to see that some of the most difficult issues will not even be teed up as NPRMs until the 4th quarter of this year.   If it takes that long to get an NPRM out with a plan already in place to guide you, how much longer will it take to arrive at an actual final decision? Just checking the block on issuance of the NPRM may make people feel good, but nothing will have been accomplished.

Further, the Agenda comes with its own fine-print footnote that reads like a disclaimer for some new medicine. The footnote reminds us that the Agenda reflects “only proposed FCC actions, not those of other government agencies” – a major carve-out, given the significant elements of the NBP which are controlled completely by other government agencies. The footnote also cautions that the timelines described in the Agenda are merely “a series of targets that may be adjusted to respond to changing conditions as appropriate.” It goes on from there, but you get the picture.

So we wish the Commission Godspeed as it embarks on its implementation plan, and we earnestly hope that the effort does not get bogged down in the usual administrative inertia that so often sinks bold new initiatives in this town.