Baker: FCC's Broadband Policy Should Reach Unserved Areas

Said commission would need carefully-targeted government approaches

New Republican Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker says that the highest priority of the FCC's broadband policy should be reaching "all remaining unserved areas."

She said they would need carefully-targeted government approaches, aimed where there were not sufficient market incentives for private industry.

That came in a speech at a Free State Foundation seminar on broadband Thursday, her first speech as an FCC commissioner. She outlined her regulatory philosophy, which will be to give the presumption to marketplace competition and weigh the costs and benefits of imposing regulations on that market, including the risk that new regulations will impose burdens that could "damage consumer welfare and endanger economic growth."

Saying she wanted to lay out some of her policy objectives, Baker also said spectrum efficiency was another goal in light of increased demand for wireless spectrum. "I have a keen interest in spectrum policy," she said, "and I am convinced that it is critical that we pursue policies that foster the efficient use of spectrum to promote continued innovation and investment in the wireless marketplace to the benefit of the American consumer."

Baker has plenty of experience with spectrum policy as the former head of the National Telecomunications & Information Administration, which oversees spectrum policy for government users.

Baker also outlined her regulatory philosophy, which is consumer-focused, but rooted in the belief that consumers benefit from investment, innovation and competition in free markets. She said that competition regulates better than government regulators.

To that end, she said that she hoped the Child Safe Viewing Act report to Congress would lead to "identifying and encouraging" industry best practices rather than more regulation.

The report teed up a further inquiry into media content controls and is part of a larger review of the FCC's childrens TV regulations.

The Julius Genachowski-led FCC has made gathering data a priority, but Baker advised against casting too broad a net.

"If we seek information well beyond that needed to support our identified goals—and especially when we seek information about matters clearly beyond the scope of our statutory authority," she advised. "[W]e needlessly send signals to the market that can create regulatory uncertainty. When regulatory uncertainty skews business decisions to invest and innovate, it is consumers who suffer in the end."

She also advised against the "mission creep" of extending FCC authority. "[W]e should not strain the limits of our jurisdiction to fit the political pressures of the day," she said.

Baker did not specify any instances of that, but at the time of the commission's launch of its inquiry into competition in mobile wireless two weeks ago, she expressed similar concerns, saying: "[A]lthough there are benefits in collecting additional data regarding the wireless marketplace, we must be mindful that we may be seeking information about services that the commission may not have the authority to regulate."

She also talked about the role of the courts in FCC decisionmaking--many decisions, from indecency to cable regulations to ownership rules--have been challenged in court. "We need to consider what it tells us about the parameters of our authority, what it tells us about what the commission has done right in the past, and where the commission has overstepped," she said.