It was a kinder, gentler FCC that showed itself for new
Chairman Julius Genachowski's first meeting, but one that has a tough road
ahead of it in pursuit of a comprehensive broadband plan.
The praise for staffers, for the DTV transition and the Herculean
broadband planning effort came from all quarters, as did pledges for an open,
transparent, consumer-focused, data-driven, commission.
Commissioner Robert McDowell, who was sworn in for a new
term as the first order of business, said the chairman had set just the right
tone in his first few days and that he was looking forward to working with him.
Genachowski will need cooperation and hard work to get the
broadband plan out by the Feb. 17 deadline.
The chairman said that the broadband plan was not about
broadband but about making a difference in people's lives. He was echoed, and
actually preceded, in that sentiment by fellow Democrat Michael Copps, who said
the report to Congress had to be much more than that.
"Time is short," said the chairman, and the task
ambitious. He also said that the consequences for failure are enormous.
"Now is not the time for half measures," he said. Those full measures
mean not just getting folks access, he said, but affordable access, and with
the skills to make use of the technology.
He also echoed the criticisms of many Democrats about the
reach and speed of broadband. "The sad reality is that we are slipping
behind as a nation in broadband." He said it would take a long-term
commitment to renew America's
The size of the task was driven home by Blair Levin, who is
heading up the broadband plan effort.
Levin laid out an ambitious timetable and delivery schedule.
He said there would be some 20 staff workshops next month on various aspects of
the plan including healthcare, e-government, education and job training. He
also apologized for those used to taking August vacations but said it could not
In addition to the plan, the FCC also has a regular report
to Congress on broadband deployment that will be rolled into the effort, as
well as broadband mapping requirements.
The commission has already launched a beta version of a new Website,
www.broadband.gov, which will give the public
an up-close and personal view of the plan's evolution, and allow for comment
and even some interaction with the data that will help drive the effort.
The workshops will be public and there will be a chance to
comment on those workshops, with a deadline of Sept. 11. There will also be
field hearings and workshops in the fall.
Levin said the approach to the plan would be divided into
four parts. First, assessing the current situation; second, identifying what could
be done in the nearer term without a change in government policy (for example,
he cited the cable industry's roll-out of Docsis 3.0); third, identifying where
there are currently "demonstrable public interest harms"; fourth,
identifying ways to lessen those public interest harms.
He said that he didn't have the answers, but that a
data-driven commission meant that they would not start with conclusions but
with data, and that the data would not be accepted without being vetted. On the
issue of not starting with conclusions, Levin would not comment on whether the
FCC would come up with different definitions of "broadband" or "un-served areas"
than those the NTIA and RUS established for their broadband grant program. But he
did suggest their work would be a starting point from which data would be
layered on and perhaps new conclusions drawn.
Both Levin and Genachowski summed up the bigger picture in
the same terms. They said that broadband was not the solution to any single
problem, but part of the solution to essentially all of the challenges facing
the economy and the nation.