Yesterday self-professed “broadband nerd” Om Malik and Stacey Higginbotham of GigaOm hosted a revealing interview with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. It was a great opportunity to hear the Chairman in real time talk through some of the issues facing the commission as it races to prepare its national broadband plan by February. Genachowski was impressive — he comes across as a technologist who has landed in DC, not a lawyer looking for things to regulate.
Here’s the video link — it’s over an hour long. So while watching I took notes for you my loyal readers, and I jotted down the video times where Genachowski shared some interesting nuggets so you can listen for yourself if you’d like. Here they are, note I paraphrase slightly in spots for clarity:
- (57:00) “Historically, the FCC has focused on regulation of the network. Now, that can’t be the only perspective, with so much innovation happening at the edge. This perspective is what I’m trying to institutionalize at the FCC.”
- (46:45) “Bits are bits.”
- (44:30) “There are broadband deployment gaps, and there are broadband adoption gaps.”
- (44:00) “There are three broad sets of goals for the national plan: 1. Economic — an open, robust platform will be a productivity engine and an economic advantage globally; 2. Societal — pervasive broadband will benefit healthcare, education, public safety, energy; 3. Civic Engagement — spur participatory democracy and better government.”
- (39:00) “Sometimes people don’t realize that startups are small businesses.”
- (36:25) “There’s an historical comparison in what we’re going through now in the development of the electrical grid in the early 2oth century. In the last century we had household appliances, with the information grid we have waves of news apps.”
- (29:45) In response to a question from Om about the fact that most consumers today face a duopoly for broadband service: “What I’ve found at the FCC is that there isn’t much established literature around addressing what we have today. It’s not a monopoly — there are accepted ways to deal with that. It’s also not unfettered competition with a low barrier to entry, which also has accepted steps. It’s something in the middle, and it’s tough.”
- (24:00) “We have the chance to lead the world in mobile broadband, but the biggest risk is the lack of spectrum.”
- (17:30) In response to a question from the audience about the FCC sending a letter asking for information from Apple about refusing to allow Google Voice onto the iPhone: “Let’s look at the situation for a minute. What I want the FCC to be is proactive, to ask questions and to be informed. What we found was there was an agreement between Apple and AT&T to keep VoIP applications off the iPhone. Then, that decision was changed.”
- (10:00) In response to a question about open Internet and what acceptable network management should be: “The issues around Open Internet can be put into three buckets: 1. There is the bucket of things that almost all would agree clearly should not be allowed; 2. there is a bucket of things that clearly the government should allow and leave alone; 3. and then again there is a tricky middle ground. The goal of the FCC should be to make that middle category as small as possible, and to create a transparent, workable process for resolution.”
So that’s my take on this incredibly educational discussion. Here’s Stacey’s.
We don’t do policy work at Strategic, but I’m fortunate to have fast growth clients who are very involved in markets that are greatly affected by broadband. GovDelivery provides government to citizen communications and is leading the adoption of Gov’t 2.0 technologies by the federa government, BroadSoft is a VoIP application provider to hundreds of carriers and the authors of the Broadband Ignite blog, and TANDBERG is the leading provider of video conferencing that powers telework and improves the delivery of education and healthcare (and is soon to be acquired by Cisco).
I’ve had conversations with these clients about the critical juncture this country is at vis-a-vis the migration to all IP networks. The entire regulatory structure currently administered by the FCC — with its reciprocal compensation, termination charges, subsidies, taxes dating back to the Spanish-American war — is a legacy of the circuit-switched past. Much of it makes no sense in an IP world in which “bits are bits.” Making sure the commission strikes the right balance in negotiating the “tricky middle ground” described by Genachowski will have far reaching implications on all businesses that rely on the Internet.
The FCC is facing a tabula rasa, with a chance to totally re-write the rules of the road. After watching yesterday’s interview and listening to Genachowski, I’ve got more faith they can get it right.
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