Copps: Broadband Plan Will Be FCC's Biggest-Ever Undertaking

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Acting Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Copps said he was enthusiastic about finally getting to develop a national broadband plan, per Congress' directive in the economic stimulus package. He said the long-term plan will likely be the biggest project the FCC has ever undertaken.

That came in an interview Wednesday for The Communicators series on C-SPAN.

Copps had no comment on whether the Internet needed to be regulated as a utility, saying that he simply looked at it as "essential infrastructure.... This isn't just some super-liberal, do-gooder kind of social theory," he said.

Relative to competition, Copps said he hoped it would not just be about regulation vs. deregulation, but rather, "can we find a way to make this open, dynamic technology run with, hopefully, a minimum of burdens on it, but

cognizant of the fact that it has large economic and social purposes that need to serve the public interest. That is the navigational challenge."

Copps pointed out that the broadband strategy must go beyond "broadband for broadband," but "broadband for all kinds of issues" like energy and education and health and public safety. He said that he had been at the White House this week talking about Smart Grids in a Cabinet-level meeting with the Secretaries of Commerce and Energy and members of the electrical and utility industries.

"Almost every challenge that this country faces to one degree or another depends on our success in building that infrastructure for the 21st century," he said.

In a speech to a Free Press media reform summit in Washington last week, Copps evoked Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal in celebrating what he sees as an opportunity for long-overdue progressive reforms. But, "reform doesn't equal regulation. Reform equals reform," he said Wednesday. "It means we will try to look at the substance of an issue," and a "reasoned national dialog on the

Copps said he does not know how long the window of opportunity for reform will be open and how wide it will be. But he said that he thinks it is wide enough to do a lot.

In his Free Press speech, Copps called for a three-year station license renewal, rather than the current eight-year renewal. That call was followed soon after by opposition from the National Association of Broadcasters. He was asked whether some of the same obstacles stood in the way of the reforms he sought. Copps said far be it from him to counsel the NAB or other trade associations, but he suggested they might want to be part of the conversation about the reforms he is advocating.

"I think if I were out there and I realized that we were in a period where change is possible and such things could be coming our way, I think I would opt to be part of the dialog. I would step up to the plate. I would go down to the FCC and start talking about how we could come together and reason together" on issues like public interest obligations that are "reasonable and viable and not burdensone."

He said the same thing would apply to network neutrality, noting that some of the big telephone companies had been willing to start talking about network neutrality, though he did not name any names.

Asked about the DTV transition hard date of June 12, he said there was "zero" chance that the date would be moved again.

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