FCC Chairman: More People Need to Make Broadband National Priority - Broadcasting & Cable

FCC Chairman: More People Need to Make Broadband National Priority

Access expansion addressed at Minneapolis broadband summit
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FCC Chairman
Julius Genachowski said Tuesday that some people still aren't treating
broadband as a national priority, and pointed to the recent decision
on the FCC's annual broadband access report as an example.

Genachowski was addressing a broadband summit at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis hosted by Minnesota
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar.

He conceded that participants at a broadband summit would be expected to agree that broadband is a priority, but said: "I do
want you to know that is not the uniform opinion in Washington or in our state governments."

The FCC, in its most recent report (issued last month) on whether broadband access was being provided in a timely and
reasonable way,
concluded for the first time that it was not. The reaction to that conclusion was divided along the same policy lines that
separate the two sides of the network neutrality debate.

The FCC, per the Telecommunications Act of 1996, has to regularly report on the state of broadband. This was the sixth
report following five that concluded deployment was timely and reasonable. But this is a new chairman and the report had
some new ground rules, including what speed of service qualified and with a tighter definition of where it was available.

The result, said the FCC, did not meet the congressional standard of timely and reasonable for "all" Americans.

Genachowski said that in contrast to past reports, in which the FCC looked at broadband and said, "yes, everything's fine," he came to a far different conclusion after looking at the most recent report with his staff.

"I said 'this is crazy.' We see how other countries
are moving, we see the challenges, the answer is 'No,'" Genachowski said, adding that one would have thought that conclusion would have been
"unanimous and without criticism....That was a 3-2 vote." The conclusion was criticized by many in industry as well as the
dissenting commissioners, who said they were troubled by the failing grade. 

"[P]people in this room understand about the importance of broadband to small businesses, to our economy, to healthcare and
public safety...[but] we're in the early innings in terms of having it really become a national priority," the chairman said, adding that more people have to understand that standing still is moving backwards.

Klobuchar and Genachowski both cited figures showing that the U.S. was falling behind in broadband deployment and innovation. The
chairman cited one study that showed the U.S. had dropped from 15th to 18th in the world, even since the National Broadband
Plan was released last March. While he said that some have criticized the study for not comparing apples to apples, he said that
even discounted by half, it was "not good enough."

Both also pledged their support for an open Internet, with Genachowski saying there needed to be a framework in place to
insure it. Currently the FCC is contemplating his proposed framework of applying some Title II regulations to broadband
access.

Also at the forum was Communications Workers of America Minnesota State Council president Tim Lovaasen . CWA is currently participating in talks to find a targeted
legislative fix to clarify the FCC's broadband regulatory authority, which is what the chairman is trying to do
with the Title II approach. Lovaasen put in a pitch for that targeted approach, which he said should affirm the FCC open Internet
guidelines, add transparency and nondiscrimination provisions (as the FCC has proposed in a separate network neutrality
rulemaking) and make allowances for reasonable network management. He said that the NAACP, Urban League and AFL-CIO also
support that approach. 

Genachowski talked more broadly of the rising costs of digital exclusion, including for those looking for jobs or more

affordable healthcare. He said that freedoms of expression, of access to government, and solutions for healthcare, education
and public safety all rely on a robust and healthy broadband ecosystem.

The chairman
said that there are two sets of problems with broadband: one is that part
of the country--over 24 million people--don't have the infrastructure for broadband
even if they wanted to connect. The other is that the
66% adoption rate for those who can connect is still too low. The goal, Genachowski said, is fast, affordable and open broadband, and that "Internet
freedom" is essential to consumers, entrepreneurs, and small
businesses. He said that Intenret users, not ISPS, should be deciding
what content and services they get, and that entrepreneurs and
innovators need to be able to access an open Internet if they are to
"participate and thrive."

Klobuchar said
the three pillars for expanding access are 1) making sure it remains
open, secure and accessible; 2) that it is expanded in a way
that strengthens the economy and stimulates jobs, and 3) that it
encourages investment in streamlined infrastructure, which will require
collaboration between government and industry, something Lovaasen also
emphasized.

Minneapolis has become a summer destination for Democratic FCC Commissioners of late. Last week, Michael Copps and Mignon
Clyburn (the other two majority votes in the 3-2 decision on broadband) were in the city for a public forum on
Internet access.

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