Public Knowledge took aim at the FCC's broadband update
Wednesday, suggesting the commission's briefing on the policy side of the FCC's
plan had misplaced priorities and did not sufficiently address competition. FCC
broadband advisor Blair Levin said it did and counted the ways.
While Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn said her group
supported reforming the Universal Service Fund to include support for broadband
and backing municipal networks as one possible way to deploy broadband to unserved
and underserved areas.
"They would do nothing to reverse the slide caused by
eight years of misbegotten telecommunications policies that have crippled
most meaningful broadband competition for consumers," she said.
What Public Knowledge wanted to hear about, she said, was
"bold steps," like opening telecom networks to competitors or
separation of carriers into wholesale and retail components, not the
"incremental steps" the commission was proposing.
Levin told reporters in a conference call later in the day
that the criticism was flat wrong.
Free Press echoed that concern. Liz Rose, communications
director for Free Press, said, "In the outline presented today, the FCC ignored
the competition crisis," said Free Press Communications Director Liz Rose.
"Congress said to solve the broadband problem. We had hoped that today's
meeting would focus more on spurring competition."
Asked whether the FCC had scaled back on the idea requiring
telecom companies to be open to competitors because of the economy, FCC
broadband advisor Blair Levin said no.
"We aspire to be simultaneously visionary and pragmatic,"
he said. "We are open to all kinds
of proposals. I just think that is an inaccurate assessment... It's not like we
have been shying away from big players who don't like what we're saying, it's
that we are trying to come up with pragmatic ways of addressing the problems
that Congress asked [us to]."
He said that criticism from Public Knowledge and Free Press
had about as much accuracy as early criticisms that the broadband planning process
was not open and transparent.
Levin said that there are a lot of things in the plan
designed to address competition. Getting more spectrum, he said, is all about
having a more competitive broadband marketplace. The FCC is also looking to
spur a market in "gateway" TV set-tops that would combine Internet
and TV functions. That is on the device side, but Levin said, "[it] is
certainly about competition."
Another facet of the plan, which FCC Chairman Julius
Genachowski pointed to as one of the keys, would be transparency in the kinds
of broadband service and speeds being delivered to consumers. "How can you
have a competitive market if people don't know the actual performance of the
things they are getting and could be getting if they chose."
The FCC is also contemplating ways to lower pole attachment
fees, smooth rights of way, and otherwise make it easier to lay fiber. That, he
said, is all about competition. "What we would like to do is increase the
territory where there is a business case for two or more providers. By lowering
the cost of input, we are increasing that territory," he said.
He said competition is a complicated issue, as are the
markets, which are rapidly changing. He also said there would be an
"extensive discussion" about competition.
Levin said there are things that are pretty easy to know
about the future, and things that are hard. Pretty easy, he said, is that there
is going to be an increased demand for spectrum. What he says nobody can yet
know is what the competitive reaction to cable's upgrade to Docsis 3.0 by
Verizon and AT&T and mid-tier carriers.
"If we don't get more spectrum to wireless
carriers, the odds that they will be able to compete with wireline broadband
diminishes," he said.