Thanksgiving is all about plenty, so it was appropriate that in the days leading up to the holiday, the FCC became a cornucopia of workshops, hearings and requests for comment on the national broadband plan.
The urgency is understandable. The commission now has fewer than 90 days to come up with a plan to chart the future of entertainment, health care, energy, education and everything else that touches the Internet—which is everything else.
The FCC has raised eyebrows and hackles with its inquiries. A study on broadband deployment and adoption in other countries was mercilessly attacked recently, for good reason. It appeared to have concluded that the U.S. was a middle-of-the pack broadband player and justified that presumption on the basis of FCC policies that the attacker opposed. That goes against the FCC chairman's pledge of having data drive policy, not the other way around.
Fortunately, that was only one of countless inputs in a process that even deregulation fans say is thorough and open and packed with information the FCC will have to start dealing with soon.
Broadband advisor Blair Levin recently said he doesn't want to arbitrarily cut off comment, which makes sense. The Feb. 17 deadline for the FCC report to Congress is the start of what will be a mammoth undertaking, one that has to be flexible given the pace and vicissitudes of change. It is the equivalent of putting an aircraft carrier in a slingshot and aiming it at a moving target.
The confidence that our lives will be increasingly lived online, which drives the broadband initiatives, may ultimately be the principal legacy of the new administration. That includes moving video onto that platform.
One of the reasons the FCC talks about getting spectrum back from broadcasters for broadband is likely because that is where some predict TV will wind up. Two weeks ago, FCC Media Bureau chief Bill Lake minced no words when he said, “Television and the Internet have historically been separate worlds, but that time is coming to an end.” They will, he added, converge to create a combined broadband [note he said “broadband”] medium.
Moving television to an Internet platform is in the FCC's interest, Lake suggests, because it helps achieve one of the commission's chief goals: adoption. He points out that while 76% of households have computers, 99% have TVs. As those TVs become Internet devices, he says, broadband TV will become a force “likely to drive greater adoption and use of broadband.”
Broadcasters at a B&C/Multichannel News summit in Los Angeles two weeks ago talked about the urgency of coming up with an online model that does not cut out the core business. It is a tall order, but it is critical, and perhaps an even more urgent priority than they know.