Cloudy Skies at the FCC

At an incredibly timely event hosted today by Adam Thierer and the Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF), a panel with great history and expertise on communications law and policy gathered to discuss what the next “communications act” may look like. What made today’s discussion even more relevant was the speech given yesterday by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, where he outlined a new, and some would say aggressive, regulatory scheme as it relates to America’s broadband marketplace. That added a little bit of edge on the conversation focused on updating the nation’s telecommunications laws. Looking at the FCC and how it will proceed after the Chairman’s speech yesterday, the skies seem cloudy at best in terms of what authority it has to create an unprecedented regulatory scheme on a broadband market that many economists and academics agree is working extremely well.

Link Hoewing from Verizon discussed some of the principles raised in the speech Verizon EVP Tom Tauke gave at NDN last month – in part highlighting the need for a new statutory framework to govern the 21st Century Internet ecosystem. But of all the points Hoewing raised, what was most interesting – and practical – was the idea of a technical working group that was outlined in Verizon’s joint filing with Google to the FCC. This is not exactly a revolutionary concept, meaning shouldn’t governance include experts and Internet engineers from industry, academia, government and even the advocacy community? Hoewing gave the all-too familiar example of the Comcast/BitTorrent incident where he said Comcast had a legit congestion issue on their network. They were certain it was being caused by P2P applications. Had there been such a working group, Comcast could have brought the issue to the table, outlined their opinion and assumed course of action, and then worked out the best solution with input from the Internet community. All seems pretty straightforward – and sensible – and streamlined. And it gets everyone involved in lieu of the political name-slaying that is too-often occurs when the issue of Net neutrality – or network management – gets discussed.

Walter McCormick, President and CEO of USTelecom, The Broadband Association, painted a great vision of an Internet governance framework that is consistent with the aspirations of the country. He spoke of how 95% of Americans access the Internet at a rate of 4MB or above, and that consumer satisfaction is at record highs. Mr. McCormick stressed that certainty is what’s needed in the one part of the economy that is creating jobs and is ripe with innovation. Unfortunately, specifically if you ask analysts on Wall Street, it appears the FCC is only creating uncertainty in its continued attempt to find ways to regulate a highly competitive broadband marketplace.

All were agreed that the current state of the Internet in the U.S. is by no means a utopia. Panelists spoke of the need for more speed, and the need for creative solutions to connect the 5% of Americans who remain unconnected (at a cost of $24B according to a recent FCC technical paper).

But we liked Link Hoewing’s Olympics analogy where he said, “We didn’t win everything, but on the whole we were the most competitive, successful country across the board when you looked at the big picture.” When you look at the facts, and we stress you need to take an objective look at the facts, it’s hard to disagree.

Click here to watch complete archived footage of the event.

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