WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. telecommunications regulators on Thursday sought public comment on how to define "broadband," a step that could impact how the industry delivers Internet services to consumers.
The Federal Communications Commission issued a fact-finding notice on its website (http://www.fcc.gov) seeking the public's input as it drafts a national broadband plan that is slated to be submitted to Congress in mid-February.
The FCC also said it plans to issue another public notice on its website to study the competitive nature of the U.S. wireless industry and how to "encourage further innovation and investment."
The notice to examine the wireless industry comes amid another inquiry by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski seeking information about why Apple Inc rejected Google Inc's voice application for the popular iPhone.
AT&T Inc is the exclusive carrier for the iPhone in the United States. Responses to letters sent last month to the three companies from the FCC are due by late Friday.
The state of the wireless industry as well as fees on subscribers monthly bills will be discussed at an FCC meeting next Thursday, the first with all five commissioners in a new administration.
The inquiry into the wireless industry indicates that the new administration wants to take a fresh look into whether customers can get better services at more affordable prices.
The notice to define broadband also sets the stage for how regulators should proceed in trying to determine several issues such as speed, accessibility, affordability and increasing subscribership.
Among the questions posed is how often that definition should be updated.
"A static definition will fail to address changing needs and habits," the FCC notice said.
The United States lags behind many European and Asian countries in terms of broadband speed.
A 2008 study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development showed that the United States ranked 19th with an advertised rate of 9.6 mbps. The top three countries were Japan with 92.8 mbps, Korea with 80.8 mbps and France with 51 mbps.
The current U.S. base standard speed for any applicant that wants to participate in Obama's $7.2 billion economic stimulus program for expanding the U.S. broadband infrastructure is at least 768 kbps.
The speed issue, including the difference between advertised and actual rates, is among many concerns that are being addressed during a series of FCC workshops being held this month and next.
"In most cases the 'advertised' throughput speed has a tenuous relation with the actually delivered speed," Carlos Kirjner, the FCC chairman's senior adviser on broadband, said on the agency's new broadband blog.
Officials are seeking data and ideas on how to improve affordable high-speed Internet services for low-income families, education, health and medicine, homeland security, the environment and transportation.
An April 2009 study conducted by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project found that 63 percent of adult Americans have broadband at home, up 15 percent from a year earlier.
The increase corresponded with a higher average monthly cost of $39 per month in April 2009, compared with $34.50 per month in May 2008.
(Reporting by John Poirier; editing by Leslie Gevirtz)
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