By John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud The past several days have seen two important developments for NCL’s work on behalf of telecommunications consumers. First, we are proud to announce that the FCC has appointed the National Consumers League to its Consumer Advisory Committee (CAC). Representing NCL on the CAC will be NCL Board member Debra Berlyn, who will be continuing in her role as CAC Chair. Debbie had previously represented the DTV Transition Coalition at the CAC. The FCC’s official notice of the appointment is available here. The Consumer Advisory Committee was originally chartered by the FCC in 2000 (then known as the “Consumer/Disability Telecommunications Advisory Committee”) to provide advice to the Commission on issues pertaining to access for people with disabilities to telecommunications technologies, consumer education and protection, and improving consumer participation in the FCC’s rulemaking processes. Now in its fifth term, the CAC continues to provide advice to the FCC on a range of consumer issues. We are extremely pleased that the Commission has appointed NCL to the CAC and grateful to Debbie for agreeing to represent NCL at the CAC meetings. The second important development in NCL’s telecom work was our filing of comments in the FCC’s Notice of Inquiry for the Commission’s national broadband plan. The Notice was issued in response to requirements in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA -- the much-ballyhooed “stimulus” bill), which directed the FCC to submit a national broadband plan to Congress by February 2010. This effort will effectively frame the FCC’s policy with regards to the nation’s broadband infrastructure for years to come. As such, hundreds of interest groups from the private sector, organized labor, government, and non-profit communities filed comments. The main points in our comments include:
- The National Broadband Plan should encourage robust competition – The one-constant in broadband going forward is that consumers will want more of it, at faster speeds, and accessible on a variety of devices.
- Broadband access should be affordable – Universal access is insufficient if that access is unaffordable. Broadband is as essential to life in the 21st century as electricity was in the 20th. The national broadband plan should seek to keep rates affordable for low-income consumers.
- Broadband should help create jobs – The ARRA places great emphasis on the job-creation potential of broadband and associated programs such as broadband mapping. Special emphasis should be placed on innovative public-private partnerships that help to create jobs.
- Innovative solutions that reduce the Digital Divide should be encouraged – Broadband solutions that help connect difficult-to-reach audiences should be encouraged. In particular wireless broadband solutions (including Wi-Fi, WiMAX, and 3G cellular technology) connecting low-income consumers should be explored. Tele-health programs should include strict measures of quality to ensure low-income users benefit.
- Basic consumer protections should be safeguarded – Consumers should have greater control over the information they share online. Anti-competitive business practices such as mandatory binding arbitration clauses should be restricted and anti-fraud provisions should be strengthened.