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FCC releases rural broadband report

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The Federal Communications Commission has released its long-awaited report on the state of rural broadband deployment, calling for greater coordination among government agencies, better data and a flexible approach when selecting the best technology to reach remote areas.

"For years, large parts of rural America have languished on the sidelines of the digital revolution," Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps wrote in the report, available as a PDF here.

The report stresses the importance of cooperation among the various agencies with a hand in the nation's broadband policies. At the federal level, these principally include the FCC and the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture, though the report also emphasizes coordination with state, local and tribal governments, as well as community groups and individuals.

Congress charged the FCC with creating the rural broadband report through the 2008 Farm Bill. In the time since, Copps noted that the agency's mandate on broadband policy has changed, most significantly owing to the economic stimulus bill signed into law in February. That bill appropriated $7.2 billion for broadband projects, including $2.5 billion to the Rural Utilities Service, a division of the Department of Agriculture, for rural areas.

RUS, incidentally, will be headed (pending a Senate confirmation) by Jonathan Adelstein, a friend of Copps who currently serves as a commissioner at the FCC.

The rural broadband report, which the FCC delivered to Congress May 22, will serve as a building block for the larger roadmap the agency is charged with developing for a national broadband strategy. That project, another requirement of the stimulus bill, is due to Congress by Feb. 17, 2010.

In addition calling for better mapping of the service available in different rural areas, the report suggested the FCC create a section of its Web site to serve as a clearinghouse for links to various government programs promoting broadband programs.

The report also suggested rural America is a victim of market failure when it comes to broadband deployment, hinting that government might need to subsidize the cost of deploying high-speed networks in remote areas.

"Relying on market forces alone will not bring robust and affordable broadband services to all parts of rural America," the report said. "Therefore, all levels of government should explore ways to help overcome the high costs of rural broadband deployment."

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