FCC commissioners yesterday unanimously approved a notice of inquiry to open a proceeding designed to result in a national broadband plan that must be delivered to Congress next February.

The commission will seek comments within the proceeding on the best technological and strategic methods to provide broadband access to all Americans. And the broadband plan will not be limited to consumer access, as sectors such as public safety and homeland security, health care, education, and "energy independence and efficiency" also are expected to be included.

Acting Chairman Michael Copps, who has advocated the FCC conducting such a proceeding most of this decade, said the commission's goal is to deliver a broadband plan that is "focused, practical and achievable."

"If we do our job well, this will be the most formative — and I believe transformative — proceeding ever in the commission's history," Copps said during the FCC's open meeting, which was Webcast.

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, another Democrat, called the proceeding for a national broadband plan a "long overdue, desperately needed effort," noting that the plan should involve all federal agencies — not just those typically associated with telecommunications — and non-government entities such as the private sector.

"Let's be clear, this won't happen overnight," Adelstein said during the meeting. "It will take contributions from every sector — private, public, non-profit and in partnership."

Commissioner Robert McDowell, the lone Republican on the current commission, said the United States has seen significant progress in broadband deployments and adoption rates during the past decade, noting that there were almost 20 times as many high-speed lines in December 2007 — the FCC's most recent period for data — as in December 2000.

McDowell stressed the importance of the broadband plan being "competitively and technologically neutral," citing his belief that all technologies — wired, wireless and satellite — should be considered instead of trying to establish a "one-size-fits-all" solution.

"We must allow market players to succeed or fail on their own merits and not due to the government picking winners and losers," McDowell said. "Our rules must allow network operators to have a reasonable opportunity to pay back their investors. That's the only way to improve existing networks and build new ones."

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — known to most as the stimulus package — the FCC is required to deliver its broadband plan to Congress by Feb. 17, 2010.

Read the statements of the FCC commissioners:

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