Genachowski on Net Neutrality, Broadband

Chairman's far-ranging plans also cover media ownership and kids TV

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski tells B&C that the commission has approached broadcasters about ways to free up more spectrum for mobile broadband. He also says he expects to launch the FCC's inquiry into kids TV rules “relatively soon.” He has circulated the proposed inquiry to the other commissioners.

An FCC review of its media ownership rules—broadcasters have been looking for some regulatory certainty on that issue for more than half a decade—will have a longer time line, the chairman suggests. That review won't be coming until next year, though it will be teed up with recently announced workshops starting next month.

In response to a series of e-mailed questions from B&C, the chairman also says to look for a “multi-month” process of determining new network neutrality rules of the road. As he prepares to unveil his hotly debated net neutrality proposal this week, the chairman says that the “how, when and to what extent” of applying those rules to wireless broadband—he did not include “whether” as an option—remains an open and complex question.

Should cable operators be concerned that the FCC's national broadband plan will wind up subsidizing competition where service is already being provided? So long as cable and telco networks are delivering “high speed, affordable broadband to all consumers in a given area,” he says, the marketplace is sufficient. But if it “falls short” in any area or attribute, the FCC will propose “alternative and creative solutions” as part of its plan, he adds.

In his informative comments, the chairman's focus also continues to be on broadband as the FCC works toward the Feb. 17, 2010, deadline for the grand plan. But he has not forgotten broadcasters, saying he wants a “healthy, vibrant” future for the “only universally accessible medium for the delivery of video content.”

What can you say to broadcasters concerned that the endgame of the current push for more wireless spectrum is to push them off theirs?

The record is clear that our country needs more spectrum to be made available to meet the upcoming demand for mobile broadband services. We are comprehensively looking at many alternatives to make more spectrum available and spectrum use more efficient.

We are grateful to the numerous broadcasters who have responded to inquiries we've made about alternative scenarios for freeing up greater spectrum use. I encourage broadcasters to be a part of this process. We need everyone's best ideas and full participation as we consider creative opportunities to maximize the potential of our nation's spectrum.

What are some examples of how the FCC could think creatively about spectrum policy to free up more for wireless? And what do you think of the suggestion that you need to get together with the National Telecommunications & Information Administration to encourage the Defense Department and the Federal Aviation Administration to share some of theirs?

The commission is currently examining existing spectrum uses, and once we complete this data-gathering phase, we'll consider whether there should be adjustments to current spectrum allocations and spectrum management policies.

There are also bills pending in both the House and Senate that I strongly support, tasking both the FCC and NTIA to conduct a “spectrum inventory.” NTIA has the job of allocating frequencies for government use, such as for the Pentagon and other governmental entities. These initiatives will help identify possible ways to address the expected demand for mobile broadband services.

When do you plan to open your inquiry on kids TV rules?

The inquiry into how to protect and benefit children and empower parents in the digital era has been circulated to my fellow commissioners, and the inquiry will launch upon approval. I would expect that to happen relatively soon.

Broadcasters have had no regulatory certainty on newspaper-broadcaster cross-ownership or multiple-ownership rules for several years. When can they expect to get some?

Under the law, the commission is required to review media ownership rules every four years—and 2010 is the next time the FCC is due to conduct such a review. As a first step, the Media Bureau has announced plans to conduct a series of workshops in the near future focused on the state of the current media marketplace and the role of the media-ownership rules.

We invite and welcome broad participation in these workshops and this proceeding. These workshops will help determine the scope and methodology of the media-ownership proceeding and build an analytical foundation for commission decision-making.

You've talked about the value of broadband, and praised the potential of wireless. What do you see as the future of broadcast TV?

Broadcast television remains the only universally accessible medium for the delivery of video content, including news and emergency information, to all Americans. I want to see a healthy, vibrant broadcasting industry. I am particularly interested in plans broadcasters may have to fully harness the potential of digital technology now that all full-power television stations have finished the transition to digital broadcasting.

What is the status of the state of journalism inquiry, and what can the FCC do to help struggling TV stations?

It remains essential for the country to have a healthy and vibrant broadcasting industry that meets the informational needs of our communities. I understand that many stations are facing challenges in this difficult economic climate. At the FCC, our door is open for ideas on the best ways to make sure that we have a broadcasting industry that's healthy, vibrant and serves the public interest.

You are preparing to propose open-Internet rules. How might the network neutrality rules for wired and wireless broadband differ?

I recognize that there are real and relevant differences between wired and wireless services. But there should be no confusion. I believe the FCC must preserve the free and open Internet, whether a person accesses the Internet from a desktop computer or a wireless laptop or netbook.

Our goal is to develop fair rules of the road that are clear enough to provide predictability and certainty, and flexible enough to anticipate and welcome ongoing technological evolution. How, when and to what extent these rules apply to wireless are complex questions that remain open and will be considered as part of the FCC's multi-month proceeding on open-Internet issues.

What would you say to cable operators concerned that the national broadband plan will be government-subsidized competition to their existing service?

The National Broadband Plan, as required by Congress in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, tasks the commission with developing a national broadband strategy that 1) ensures that all Americans have access to high-speed Internet service; 2) addresses affordability and adoption issues; and 3) includes a plan for ways broadband can address national priorities, such as health-care delivery, education, energy efficiency, civic participation and public safety.

My view is that to the extent the marketplace can provide high-speed, affordable broadband to all consumers in a given area, we should rely on the marketplace. Where the marketplace falls short in any given area or service attribute, the plan will seek to fulfill the objectives Congress has required through alternative and creative proposals.

What authority does the FCC have over applications, Google Voice for instance, and does that call depend on how you classify Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)?

The Communications Act gives the agency broad authority over the wireless industry, over the approval of consumer devices, as well as broad authority over telephone service, including interconnected VoIP service and traditional telephone services. The commission has also exercised its statutory duty to classify services under its jurisdiction to ensure that appropriate rules of the road are in place and fulfilled.

I expect the agency's bureaus and offices to remain apprised of changes in the marketplace and advances in technology to ensure that we are fulfilling the duties Congress tasked the agency with discharging under the law.

The FCC is collecting massive amounts of data and input. How do you avoid a sort of TMI syndrome of drowning in information, and decide when to stop and pull the trigger?

As the expert agency, the FCC must have the best data and be smart about analyzing it. I want to be sure that the agency collects only the data it needs. If it is collecting data that is unnecessary or irrelevant for the performance of its functions, we should cease collecting such data.

However, the agency must obtain all the data necessary to render wise, informed policy decisions. Ensuring that the commission's data collection, retention and dissemination practices reflect a 21st century agency remains a key priority, including updating the commission's internal database infrastructure.

On Feb. 17, you turn in the broadband plan. But that is in some ways only the beginning. What will be the next steps for the commission in implementing the plan?

The National Broadband Plan is not self-effectuating, and its recommendations will require action and public processes to implement. The plan could contain recommendations for the FCC, for Congress, for other Federal agencies and departments, and for states and localities. We will consider the commission's next steps based on those recommendations.

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