Cable Show 2009: Copps Wants FCC to Adopt Nondiscrimination Principle to Go With Internet Openness

Noting "controversial subject," he will wait for next chairman to work on principle
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Cable Show 2009: Complete Coverage

Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps said Friday that he still wants the FCC to adopt a fifth, nondiscrimination principle to go with its other four on Internet openness, and to make it enforceable. But he also said that he thought the FCC should wait for the next chairman to make that happen.

That came in a breakfast speech to a cable audience at the NCTA Cable Show in Washington Friday. After telling NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow he wanted the fifth principle adopted, he told reporters afterward that because it was a "huge and controversial subject," he thought it was better to have "real credibility when you do that," saying that would mean "permanent leadership and a permanent commission."

Copps' successor, Julius Genachowski, has been nominated and there are currently a couple of commission vacancies, with at least one more coming when Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein exits to head the Rural Utilities Service, which the President wants him to run.

Copps has been a backer of the principle of network neutrality, but he did tell McSlarrow he thought that a case-by-case approach to enforcement could work, with the addition of the fifth principle that was enforceable, but with an enforcement regime that was still "alive" to the changing needs of network management.

He said he thought there was a way for government and industry to work together, instead of some "thou shalt, or though shalt not, thunderbolt" from on high.

But he also conceded there remained a lot of interest in the subject on the Hill, a point Sen. John Kerry emphasized at the Cable Show earlier in the week, saying it was on his committee's to-do list.

McSlarrow pledged that the industry would work constructively with government.

In his Q&A, Copps echoed a pervasive theme from Washington at this week's Cable show: Praising the cable industry for its broadband initiatives and for stepping up to the plate on the DTV transition. He also spoke warmly of McSlarrow and their "excellent working relationship." The feeling was mutual. McSlarrow said that in his fifth Cable Show, he was finally "delighted" to be on stage with an FCC chairman, and one who he said had not "run away" from a daunting DTV challenge. Copps' predecessor, Kevin Martin, was a notable no-show at NCTA and got criticism while still at the FCC, and more since, for his handling of the DTV transition.

Copps thanked the industry for stepping up to coordinate the DTV call centers, saying it helped prevent what could have been a disaster. But he was not ready to rest on his laurels, pointing out that only 2.5% of the population lived in markets that had fully transitioned to digital broadcasting.

On the issue cable's digital transition, McSlarrow asked whether Copps thought policymakers would take into account the industry's need to reclaim bandwidth and maybe be a bit more flexible. Copps said yes, but would not go so far as saying they would reconsider the ban on integrated set-top boxes.

The FCC will launch a notice of inquiry next week on its congressionally-mandated national broadband grant plan, which must be completed within the year.

He said the FCC would ask a ton of questions, and sought the cable industry's help in coming up with the plan as part of an effort to involve all stakeholders.

Broadband is the nation's number one infrastructure challenge, said Cops, adding that the country could not get out of its current economic hole without broadband, which he called the most powerful force since the printing press, and probably the most powerful, period.

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