Woman surfs the Internet
Woman surfs the Internet - 
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Kai Ryssdal: It's got all the makings of another long, drawn-out, Washington-insider regulatory hearing. But tomorrow's meeting of the Federal Communications Commission could wind up hitting all of us right where we're spending more and more time: sitting in front of our computers. If you've ever wished your Internet hookup could be faster, or cheaper, this is the hearing for you. The FCC's digging into something called the National Broadband Plan. And Tamara Keith reports it could bring big changes to high-speed access.

TAMARA KEITH: The FCC is supposed to explore the most efficient ways to get high-speed Internet to the masses, to the places where the major phone and cable companies haven't extended their broadband lines. Or where service is mediocre. And to people who just haven't signed on because of price. Art Brodsky with the group Public Knowledge says there's plenty of room for improvement.

ART BRODSKY: You know you see a lot of prices going up, you see speeds still relatively slow.

He has a directory of Internet service providers on his desk. It's from 1998 and has more than 500 pages. These days the options could fit in a Cliff's Notes version because, Brodsky says, companies aren't forced to sell space on their high-speed lines to other providers.

BRODSKY: Maybe there'd be more innovation. Maybe there'd be more features and prices and faster speeds if they sold line-sharing access to their networks, what we did back in the old days.

But a change like that would bring unwanted government interference says Walter McCormick, president of the U.S.-Telecom Association, which includes broadband providers from small local telephone cooperatives right on up to Verizon. He says the industry spent $60 billion last year to upgrade its networks.

WALTER MCCORMICK: There is nothing that will chill investment faster than to increase uncertainty or to suggest that there might be an increase in risk.

With billions at stake, the plan will no doubt be contentious.

For Marketplace, I'm Tamara Keith in Washington.