As promised at the March 16 public meeting where the National Broadband Plan (the “Plan”) was announced, the FCC has now released a schedule of the key action items to implement the Plan in 2010. The schedule encompasses more that 60 items, including notices of inquiry, new rulemakings, orders in existing rulemakings and actions that do not require specific authorization. The FCC’s press release announcing the agenda is available on the FCC’s web site at http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-297402A1.pdf and a chart showing specific actions and the expected timing of each is available at http://www.broadband.gov/plan/chart-of-key-broadband-action-agenda-items.pdf.

OVERVIEW

Implementation of the Plan requires dozens of specific FCC actions, spread over a period of several years. To achieve its goals under the Plan, the FCC has to begin acting right away. Some steps already have been taken, notably the creation of the “spectrum dashboard” and the new FCC broadband speed test page. Others already were on the FCC’s schedule, such as rulemakings on universal service and equipment issues, which likely will be considered at the FCC’s April meeting. The schedule for most activities, however, had not been announced before today. The release of the agenda serves several purposes. First, by creating a schedule, the FCC is providing notice to affected parties of how it intends to move forward. It is not coincidental that creating a schedule also may force the FCC to move forward, since the public will know if it does not meet the deadlines in the agenda. In addition, and as indicated by FCC Chief of Staff Edward Lazarus in remarks to the Media Institute today, releasing a comprehensive schedule is a way of reminding stakeholders that the elements of the Plan that they like are linked to the elements that they would like to see changed, rather than each being a discrete topic that can be separated from the rest.

The schedule, of course, is not binding, and it is likely that the FCC will miss some of its self-imposed deadlines. It is possible, however, to use the schedule to understand the FCC’s priorities and to have a better idea of the areas where prompt action is more likely.

The schedule looks at potential activities by quarter, and covers only between now and the end of 2010. Many of the items on the agenda will not result in FCC decisions this year, and it is almost certain that there will be other items added to the agenda in 2011. The schedule also divides the FCC’s actions into four broad categories: (1) Promoting mobile broadband; (2) Universal service; (3) Fostering competition and maximizing consumer benefits; and (4) Advancing public safety communications

MOBILE BROADBAND

The schedule for mobile broadband is proposes a series of orders on contentious issues, as well as rulemakings and inquiries.

First, it anticipates a mobile roaming order and rulemaking, which already is on the tentative agenda for the FCC’s April public meeting. It also includes a proposed order on Wireless Communications Service and Digital Audio Radio Service in the first part of the quarter.

Toward the end of the second quarter or the beginning of the third quarter, the schedule expects a new D Block order and rulemaking. The third quarter also will include a TV white spaces order. In the fourth quarter, the schedule includes a “potential” order on Advanced Wireless Service spectrum in the fourth quarter. The AWS order would be preceded by band analysis in the third quarter, with no specific public comment period.

The most important wireless-related proceeding that will be launched in 2010 likely will be the proceeding on broadcast television “spectrum innovation.” This proceeding is scheduled for the third quarter.

Other wireless-related proceedings to be launched include one on a strategic spectrum plan in the second quarter; proceedings on spectrum sharing, opportunistic use of spectrum and mobile satellite services in the third quarter; and experimental licensing in the fourth quarter.

UNIVERSAL SERVICE

The most ambitious agenda is in the area of universal service, which is described in the schedule as “accelerat[ing] universal broadband access and adoption.” There are more than 20 items under this heading.

Two of the most significant items also are early in the agenda – the launch of new rulemakings on universal service reform and on the LifeLine and Link-Up programs. As mentioned above, the universal service reform proceeding already is on the FCC’s tentative agenda for its April meeting.

It also is noteworthy that the schedule includes a separate intercarrier compensation rulemaking, scheduled for the fourth quarter, at the same time as rulemakings on universal service contributions and “USF transformation.” The transformation proceeding may deal with issues affecting the transition between the current system and the FCC’s proposed new regime. The schedule proposes to begin the proceeding on the new mobility fund, which will support deployment of 3G wireless in unserved areas, late in the third quarter.

Much of the rest of the universal service agenda relates to making service available to underserved populations, such as Indian tribal lands and to people with disabilities. These items are spread fairly evenly through the rest of 2010.

COMPETITION AND CONSUMER BENEFITS

The items under this heading are something of a mixed lot. Several of them relate to making it easier for providers to compete, while others focus on consumer protection issues.

Two of the proceedings in this portion of the schedule are on the tentative agenda for the April meeting. These are the cable equipment proceedings – a new notice of inquiry on gateway devices and a notice of proposed rulemaking on changes in the CableCARD rules. The schedule also proposes that the FCC adopt a pole attachment order and a new pole attachment rulemaking notice and launch programs related to speed and performance issues in the second quarter.

Besides pole attachments, the most prominent issue for competitors is the proposal to issue an interconnection “clarification order” in the third quarter.

This order could address IP-to-telephone interconnection and IP-to-IP interconnection for voice service. The agenda also includes addressing special access issues, via a workshop in the second or third quarter and a rulemaking in the third or fourth quarter.

The Plan’s concerns about customer information become more prominent towards the end of the year. The agenda proposes rulemakings on transparency and disclosure and on broadband data late in the third quarter and in the fourth quarter, respectively. The agenda also anticipates issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking on gateway devices in the fourth quarter.

PUBLIC SAFETY  

There are relatively few items on the agenda to address public safety, but one of them, a notice of inquiry on the FCC’s proposal for voluntary cybersecurity certifications, is on the tentative agenda for the April meeting. Many of the agenda items for public safety could have effects on service providers as well.

The proceedings with the greatest potential impacts are those related to survivability and service outages. The schedule proposes to open a notice of inquiry on survivability in the second quarter, and to hold a workshop on service outages and homeland security. The schedule also includes a rulemaking on service outages and a notice of inquiry on back-up power in the fourth quarter.

Two proposed actions relate to 911 service. The first is a further notice of proposed rulemaking on location accuracy, set for the third quarter, and the second is notice of inquiry on next-generation 911 services. The wireless portion of the public safety agenda includes waivers and a broader order on 700 MHz issues, the D Block order mentioned above and initiation of a rulemaking on public safety roaming and priority access.

IMPLICATIONS

This agenda is no surprise, either in timing or scope. Chairman Genachowski understands that there is a limited period of momentum to move the broadband Plan forward, and that the FCC needs to get a running start.

While the schedule is ambitious, it is spread out across nearly the entire agency, and unlike the implementation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 or the 1992 Cable Act, the FCC does not have specific deadlines for action on any part of the agenda. Thus, while the burden on the FCC as a whole will be significant, it should not be so significant as to prevent action. It is likely, in fact, that the most important factor in the FCC’s ability to act promptly will be the extent to which the commissioners and their personal staffs have the time to address all of these items in such short order.

The FCC’s strategy of attempting to move forward on many items at once also may present difficulties for stakeholders that in other circumstances might have focused their attention narrowly on specific issues. In many respects the process over the next few months will resemble the flurry of activity during the preparation of the Plan, when the FCC issued nearly 50 public notices seeking comment on a wide range of topics. These proceedings are likely to be more focused, with specific proposals for comment, but the level of activity almost certainly will be as intense.

The agenda also is noteworthy for the way the FCC distinguishes between decisions it intends to make and proceedings it intends to open. With very few exceptions (notably the proposed Advanced Wireless Service order), the agenda does not contemplate beginning analysis and issuing an order between now and the end of the year. It is possible, and perhaps likely, that most of the new proceedings will stretch into 2011, and some may linger into 2012. Indeed, the likelihood that many of these issues cannot be resolved quickly may be an important driver in the decision to begin the process so quickly and aggressively.