Senate Commerce Committee to hear broadband plan testimony next week

The Senate Commerce Committee will try again on Wednesday, April 14 to hold its inaugural hearing on the FCC's new National Broadband Plan.

While its House counterpart has already fielded testimony on the report, released in early March, the Senate Commerce Committee's hearing scheduled for later in month was canceled after Republicans invoked a little-known Senate rule that allows the minority to block proceedings slated to begin after 2 p.m.

GOP leaders at the time attributed their forced delay to the healthcare debate, which a top party aide last month said required "the full attention of the United States Senate."

Now that Democrats' healthcare reforms are law, however, the Commerce Committee's broadband hearing is likely to go off without a political hitch.

Still scheduled to testify is FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who has repeatedly stressed the National Broadband Plan's proposed reforms arrive at minimal cost to taxpayers.

The report contains a host of ideas to bolster high-speed Internet access, improve the use and sale of available wireless spectrum and promote industry competition -- all with the ultimate goal of expanding broadband access to 90 percent of U.S. households by 2020, according to the agency.

The FCC is likely to rely extensively on its rule-making authority to institute a number of the plan's proposed changes, FCC officials signaled last month. But many of its more substantive recommendations -- including revisions to the Universal Service Fund -- will require congressional approval, making next Tuesday's proceedings an important, early gauge of interest in the broadband plan.