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Geoff Daily

App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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June 24, 2008 1:57 PM

Inside the Minds of FCC Commissioners

One of the more thrilling parts of attending Jim Baller's event yesterday was to hear back-to-back presentations by FCC Commissioners Copps and Adelstein.

Up first, Commissioner Copps made an impassioned plea about the need for broadband now. He went to suggest a number of interesting proposals:

- Creating a White House broadband czar. One his main themes is that to accomplish these goals it's going to take a lot of work and need a lot of coordination, which can be best provided by the White House, as they were effective in doing when preparing for Y2K.

- Making sure that every low-income housing project has broadband. He used this as an example of how we need to make sure that every part of government is taking a lean-forward approach in pushing the availability and use of broadband.

- Combining the connectivity in libraries with wireless mesh networks to increase broadband deployment. While I'm not sure how feasible this is given that most libraries don't have enough capacity for their own users let alone those in the community around them, it does suggest that he's eager to think outside the box to find new solutions, which is likely what we're going to need if we're ever going to reach 100% deployment.

He then focused on how to improve the FCC.

First and foremost he spoke strongly in favor of redirecting the Universal Service Fund towards supporting the deployment of broadband, which is such an obviously good idea that I'm still shocked that we need to have a debate about this.

Secondly he lamented about how the FCC isn't doing everything it could be doing to serve as a national clearinghouse of information, collecting best practices, case studies, and technology reports so that individual communities and states don't have to learn everything on their own as is largely the case now.

And he finished with a passionate plea for us all to approach these issues with a sense of urgency. That broadband is a revolution, and like any revolution it will have winners and losers, and we can't afford to lose.

He then warned against allowing ourselves to have this debate hijacked by the age-old liberal vs. conservative, regulation as a good thing or bad thing debate, imploring everyone to "grow up" and recognize that on these issues we must find a way to all work together.

Commissioner Adelstein picked up on a similar theme, advocating that it's not just the White House we need leadership from but all levels of government, from the local on up.

He also firmly stated his belief that we need to make sure that whatever we do benefits everyone, and that broadband is undeniably essential to productivity. He went on to give the interesting example of how through broadband we can flip the outsourcing paradigm on its head and instead of having jobs leave rural areas for overseas we can instead insource jobs and bring employment back to these communities.

I couldn't have been more excited when he cut through the debate around America's international broadband ranking with the simple statement that there shouldn't even be a debate: the US needs to be number one.

I also really appreciated his pragmatic stance that we can talk until we're blue in the face, but that we need to start working towards implementing real action, and that when setting forth on this journey we need to establish clear benchmarks to help gauge our progress.

At one point, he seemed to contradict himself slightly. While he clearly voiced his belief that we need to rely on the private sector to deploy these networks, at the same time earlier he admitted that the profits a private company generates don't reflect the full societal benefits broadband brings about. How we resolve this tension was not addressed.

Two other good points he made is that there's no point in having broadband if you don't have a computer, highlighting the need to focus on adoption and use alongside deployment, and the fact that the metric he looks at to gauge America's global competitiveness is price per megabit, which I also think is the truest indicator of how we're doing.

He seemed to agree with Copps exhortations to transform the FCC into more of a national resource for communities and states by pointing out how unfortunate it is that states have largely been left on their own to date to figure these complex issues out for themselves.

And finally, he put out a call to have a National Broadband Summit, which I think could be a highly effective way to move this debate forward. Let's get everyone in the same room and start hammering out where we're going and how we're going to get there. If we do this right we can take advantage of the opportunity to not only frame the debate over national broadband policy but hopefully we can also cobble together the start of specific policies that can be presented to the next President in such a way to allow him to take the ball and run with it.

The last thought I'll share from their presentations was their reaction to this question that I asked at the end: In terms of what's best for America, are we better of trying to encourage competition between last mile access technologies or to establish a national common infrastructure on which competition between services can thrive?

Unfortunately, I didn't get any great answers to it. Admittedly, it's a complex question, but their responses dealt mainly with the need to increase competition, how we've paid a price for not having more competition, and how wireless will be able to enable us to finally have that third party that can bring about true competition.

I think they were saying that they support increasing competition between the characteristics of last mile access technologies, but I'm hopeful that they'll continue to ponder this question as I believe it is at the heart of what we need to determine in terms of how we're going to move forward to create the best, most robust, most competitive broadband marketplace possible.

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