Q&A: Genachowski Says Network Neutrality Rules Will Take Time


Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski said he anticipates coming up with new network-neutrality rules will be a “multimonth” process. As he prepares to unveil his hotly-debated proposal this week, the chairman says that the “how, when and to what extent” of applying those rules to wireless broadband” — he did not include “whether” as an option — remains an open, and complex, question. As long as cable and telco networks are delivering “high-speed, affordable broadband to all consumers in a given area,” he said, marketplace limitations should be sufficient. If they “fall short” in any area or attribute, the FCC will propose “alternative and creative solutions” as part of its plan. On this topic and others, Genachowski responded to e-mail questions from Multichannel News Washington bureau chief John Eggerton.

MCN: You are preparing to propose open-Internet rules. How might network-neutrality rules for wired and wireless broadband differ?

Julius Genachowski: I recognize that there are real and relevant differences between wired and wireless services. But there should be no confusion. I believe the FCC must preserve the free and open Internet, whether a person accesses the Internet from a desktop computer or a wireless laptop or netbook.

Our goal is to develop fair rules of the road that are clear enough to provide predictability and certainty, and flexible enough to anticipate and welcome ongoing technological evolution.

How, when, and to what extent these rules apply to wireless are complex questions that remain open and will be considered as part of the FCC’s multi-month proceeding on open Internet issues.

MCN: What would you say to cable operators concerned that the national broadband plan will be government-subsidized competition to their existing service?

JG: The National Broadband Plan, as required by Congress in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, tasks the commission with developing a national broadband strategy that, one, ensures that all Americans have access to high speed Internet service; two, addresses affordability and adoption issues; and three, includes a plan for ways broadband can address national priorities, such as health-care delivery, education, energy efficiency, civic participation, public safety and other issues.

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My view is that to the extent the marketplace can provide high-speed, affordable broadband to all consumers in a given area, then we should rely on the marketplace. Where the marketplace falls short in any given area or service attribute, then the plan will seek to fulfill the objectives Congress required through alternative and creative proposals.

MCN: Can 768 Kilobits per second downstream and 200 upstream survive as the FCC definition for residential high-speed in the national broadband plan?

JG: This is one of many important questions actively being considered by the Omnibus Broadband Initiative.

MCN: The FCC is collecting massive amounts of data and input. How do you avoid a sort of TMI syndrome of drowning in information and decide when to stop and pull the trigger?

JG: As the expert agency, the FCC must have the best data and be smart about analyzing it. I want to be sure that the agency only collects the data it needs — if it is collecting data that is unnecessary or irrelevant for the performance of its functions then we should cease collecting such data. 

However, the agency must obtain all the data necessary to render wise, informed policy decisions. Ensuring that the commission’s data collection, retention, and dissemination practices reflect a 21st-century agency remains a key priority, including updating the commission’s internal database infrastructure.

MCN: What is the status of inquiries into the special access market and Universal Service?

JG: Within the next 30 days, the Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau will issue a public notice seeking comment on the appropriate data sets needed and the analytic framework to use in evaluating special-access markets. 

Both special access and universal-service reform will likely be considered within the framework National Broadband Plan, which is due Feb. 17, 2010.

MCN: On Feb. 17, you turn in the broadband plan. But that is, in some ways, only the beginning. What will be the next steps for the commission in implementing the plan?

JG: The National Broadband Plan is not self-effectuating and all of its recommendations will require subsequent action and public processes to implement. 

The National Broadband Plan could contain recommendations for the FCC, for Congress, for other federal agencies and departments and for states and localities.

We will consider the commission’s next steps based on those recommendations.