Speaking at a Commerce Department gathering of officials from the FCC, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps announced that his agency would launch a notice of inquiry (NOI) next month on the development of a national broadband plan that would fulfill the requirements of the recently-enacted 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Together, the FCC, the NTIA, and the USDA are tasked with administering $7.2 billion in ARRA funding for the deployment of broadband services to unserved and underserved areas nationwide. In accordance with ARRA directives, the FCC must develop a nationwide broadband plan within a year of the ARRA’s adoption, or by February 17, 2010. In his speech before a crowded Commerce Department meeting room on Tuesday, Copps confirmed that, at the FCC’s next scheduled open meeting on April 8, “we will kick off an open, participatory public process” to “marshal the data and expertise we need to make sure we meet our legislatively mandated date . . . for presenting Congress and the American people a national broadband strategy worthy of the name.” As part of that effort, the FCC has also issued a request for comments on the implementation of broadband provisions connected to the 2008 Farm Bill, under which the FCC is expected to cooperate with the USDA on the development of a comprehensive broadband strategy for rural areas. The FCC’s public notice specifies an abbreviated pleading cycle that calls for the filing of initial comments by March 25 and further states that “the rural broadband strategy developed in [the Farm Bill] docket will inform our effort to develop a comprehensive national broadband plan pursuant to the [ARRA].” Lamenting that recent statistics from the International Telecommunications Union put the U.S. at a “dismal” 17th place worldwide ranking in terms of broadband deployment, Copps also told his audience, “today we say, ‘enough’—we mobilize and we begin to build.”