Genachowski Affirms Focus on Gateway Device, Spectrum Allocation

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FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, continuing his campaign for a universal gateway device as his agency begins its examination of the topic, thinks that the "pay folks have a reasonable concern about doing this in a way that preserves the integrity of the pay stream."

"We're at a point technologically where we can explore... if there's a way to protect the pay model and [also] release innovation," Genachowski emphasized during remarks at the "All Things Digital" conference here on June 2. The chairman said, with a hopeful tone, that he will work on the issue "until we get the right answer," ideally by his 2012 target date.

Genachowski noted that the cable card approach has not worked and warned that the "app" [applications] juggernaut, fueled by iPhone and other devices, is coming to the TV set. The universal gateway will enable such value, he predicted.

Genachowski took a mild swipe at the broadband industry's inability to deliver the bandwidth it promises. He cited the FCC survey, released this week, that showed that four out of five Americans don't know what broadband speed they are receiving. He also indicated that many consumers appear to be receiving only about half the speed that is advertised. Genachowski said he would like to see "greater incentives" to empower consumers to switch to the most productive Internet provider available to them.

"That's a strategy we'll use wherever we can, wherever information technology creates [services] that empowers consumers and lets markets work more efficiently."

Genachowski focused most of his remarks on innovation, the U.S. status in global broadband service and the ever-more complicated wireless spectrum developments. He cited the "drive toward a single universal gateway" as one that "ultimately will allow innovation in the living room."

In response to a question from Multichannel News about the recently announced Congressional exploration of a Telecommunications Act update, Genachowski revised comments that he made to a similar question during the Cable Show in Los Angeles last month. At that time, he indicated that the 1996 Act is resilient enough to handle ongoing technology advances. Today he said "the technology changes so quickly" and "a clean fix from Congress would be welcome." However he offered no expectations on a timetable for any such action.

Genachowski repeated his frequent lament that the U.S. lag in broadband deployment is having widespread economic impact.

"The rest of the world isn't standing still," he said. "They understand the enormous value of broadband" for economic development. With that segue, the chairman reprised his frequent appeal about the need to "drive more investment" in broadband.

Competition offers "the biggest opportunity [in] the next decade to drive broadband success," he said, emphasizing that "unleashing mobile broadband" is the most important component of this expansion. "The demand on networks is going up at a rate that dwarfs the amount of spectrum" that will be available, he added. He cited data that suggest iPads, smart phones and other wireless devices are placing demands on the existing networks that will lead to 30 to 40 times the levels of current capacity.

There is enough spectrum available if you "put in place smart policies to avoid congestion," he said. "We've got to work on spectrum policies that themselves generate greater efficiencies," including "news and betters markets, such as secondary markets, taking more advantage of unlicensed spectrum."

"There's no question in my mind that spectrum recovery has to be part of the solution," Genachowski insisted, citing recommendations in the National Broadband Plan. "We think we've suggested a solution that works for everyone. We think that this creates an approach that brings some market discipline to spectrum."

As for Internet security, Genachowski said "the dangers are very serious" and "the systems that should be in place aren't yet."

"We need solutions speed, energy and action in this area because we're not just competing against ourselves." Genachowski said. "We're competing against the rest of the world."

And continuing a theme that has permeated this conference since Steve Jobs's opening presentation.

Genachowski acknowledged the appeal of Apple's iPad. In response to an audience question about whether President Obama yet has the popular device, Genachowski said, "I don't know whether he has an iPad, but I'm sure that will be taken care of very quickly."