Powell: `Scream' at Forced Access


Washington -- Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell
Thursday offered probably his most blunt assessment yet on whether broadband
providers like cable operators and phone companies should operate free from
government regulation.

In a speech to the National Summit on Broadband Deployment here, Powell said
he had no appetite for imposing common-carrier -- or forced-access mandates --
on broadband providers that have poured billions of dollars into risky
high-speed-data networks.

'When someone advocates regulatory regimes for broadband that look like,
smell like, feel like common carriage, scream at them! They will almost always
suggest that it is just a `light touch.' Demand to see the size of the hand that
is going to lay its finger on the market. Insist on knowing where it all stops.
Require that they explain who gets to make the key decisions -- if it is
enlightened regulators, rather than consumers and producers, walk out of the
meeting,' Powell said.

Powell's choice of words was interesting in that when then-America Online
Inc. chairman and CEO Steve Case wanted Congress or the FCC to force cable
operators to carry unaffiliated Internet-service providers, Case called his
open-access proposal a 'light touch.'

In other comments, Powell said he supported the tax on phone users to fund
the wiring of all classrooms to the Internet. But he added that wireless
local-area networks might have accomplished the job at a lower cost than
stringing wires.

'I believe wiring of America's classrooms has been successful, but if
starting again today, we might have built wireless LANs in the schools rather
than hardwire every classroom. It would have been cheaper and probably easier to
upgrade and evolve as new applications arrived,' he said.