Levin: Broadband Record Still Lacking

Says freeing up more spectrum could be one key to national deployment

The FCC still does not have the information it needs to meet its Feb. 17, 2010 congressional deadline for a national broadband plan, but one thing that may help it meet
its goal is freeing up more spectrum.

That is according to the text of a speech delivered by FCC principal broadband advisor Blair Levin to a breakfast meeting audience of lobbyists and communications executives in Washington Wednesday.

"[I]f the only choices are those in the current record, there is no way to meet the congressional directives," he said.

Levin had criticized the public and industry input on the national broadband plan in an earlier speech as too aspirational at the expense of practical solutions, and of being "analytically weak" and lacking in serious purpose." But he said Wednesday he needed to clarify that.

Levin said he did not want to stifle creativity, but that the commission needs more data to support all the policy arguments it has been hearing.

He said the commission's North Star should be about "unleashing a process rather than reaching an arbitrary goal."

The FCC's North Star, he said, should be "freeing up underutilized assets."

What kind of assets? Spectrum for one. Levin cautioned anyone from drawing conclusions about just where the FCC is going, but he also said finding more spectrum was one of the places it was looking to help boost broadband.

"[A] key input is spectrum and everyone agrees, there is not enough of it. Moreover, demand curves from new uses by smart phones suggest a massive increase in demand ahead for that input."

Levin was echoing Chairman Julius Genachowski, who suggested in comments on the FCC's wireless broadband inquiry, launched last week, that mobile broadband was key to the nation's future and the FCC would need to make critical decisions about allocating and assigning spectrum for that purpose.

Levin said adoption is another key, but again, he said details are needed, like how to pay for it. Levin has said before that the FCC is going to have to demonstrate the
public policy return on whatever investment it makes in broadband, particularly if it is going back to Congress for more money or reallocating FCC funds.

But while Levin outlined the challenges and tough choices, which he said would likely leave no one in his audience completely happy, he ended on an aspirational note himself.

"[I]f we cast aside narrow self-interests, dig deep into the data, and approach the problems in a new way, we can propose a plan that will capture those externalities, build that foundation and make our country better and stronger."