Washington

Markey: National Broadband Plan Can Have Positive Implications on Global Warming

MIT panelists hope national smart grid will become reality 11/30/2009 04:21:05 PM Eastern

Add the solution to global warming to the list of to-do items in the balance as the FCC prepares its national broadband plan for Congress (due Feb. 17), a plan that must incorporate broadband implications for healthcare, education, government services, national security, and more.

Rep. Ed Markey (D- Mass.) former chair of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee and current chair of a special committee on energy and global warming, said as much at an FCC field hearing Monday at MIT, where four of the five FCC commissioners heard from the energy community and academics about the need for coordination, collaboration, and more spectrum, the last a common theme.

Markey, who was responsible for charging the FCC with the broadband plan as part of the stimulus package, said he thought that if they got the plan right, the greenhouse gas problem would be solved by 2050, so that instead of pinning horrific consequences of inaction to that date, kids would instead have to look in their history books to learn about the issue.

He said what the FCC was doing was at the heart of the solution, which was to use technology to solve the problem.

Commissioner Robert McDowell was on the West Coast visiting Silicon Valley as part of a prior commitment, but the balance of the commission was at MIT to hear from Markey as well as a variety of panelists on the issues of energy and the environment.

Among the takeaways from the panel session was that the government would need to find ways to incentivize broadband networks and utilities to work together in ways they had not before, and for both to collaborate with government and academia to get the job done.

The job is to match the near ubiquitous deployment of electricity with broadband so that a national smart grid can become a reality, and with enough bandwidth to handle as-yet-undeveloped applications.

The energy implications are not only related to remote monitoring and energy management, but to the energy saved by telecommuting. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that some estimates put that telecommuting dollar savings at between $20 billion and $40 billion over the next decade.

When he asked what one thing the FCC could do to double investment in the space or get something done twice as fast--Genachowski was looking for specifics on what high-benefit strategies the FCC should employ to incentivize innovation in the energy efficiency sector--he got several votes for universal broadband, and one specific suggestion for mandating that set-top boxes include a chip that allows an energy company to communicate Smart Meters.

"Those people building set-top capability or modem capability for broadband, I would like to see them imbed chips inside those devices so they can natively talk to Smart Meters," said Adrian Tuck, CEO of Tendril, which remotely monitors those smart meters. "Otherwise I have to sell an additional box," he said, pointing out that the chip only costs "three or four dollars."

But, generally, the message was similar to that delivered by the healthcare, education, and public safety communities: collaboration, coordination, a flexible and open approach, and capacity, capacity and more capacity (as in bandwidth) are keys. Reliability and security from cyber attacks remain important as well.

October