Three Men and a Plan

Publish date:
Social count:

The following is an excerpt from a March 23 speech at the National
Press Club by Blair Levin, executive director, Omnibus Broadband
Initiative, Federal Communications Commission:

I owe this speech to an unlikely threesome:
Ed Markey, Reinhold Niebuhr and John Malone.
First, why we need a plan — or, what we learned from
Ed Markey. Second, how we approached the recommendations
— or, what we learned from Reinhold Niebuhr.
And third, how it should play out going forward —
or, what we learned from John Malone.

Let’s start with Markey. A few weeks ago, at a broadband
plan event, the Congressman told the audience,
“When America has a plan, it can lead the world.”
We agree, because a plan forces an organization
to be transparent about its agenda.

The plan lays out a broad agenda for government
action over the next 10 years. Within a few weeks,
the FCC will lay out a detailed agenda for proceedings
for the next several years.

It is great for everyone that these agendas be
public. It’s good for businesses that need to know
the direction of government policy. This is how the
plan will allow America
to lead the world —
by providing a road map
around which private investment
can have the
confidence to form.

No business would invest hundreds of millions or billions in
a project without adequate testing. But there are a number of issues
where the FCC will have to act but for which no testing has
been done. So a number of recommendations go to pilot projects
that need to be done soon so the FCC or other appropriate government
entities can make sure the investment will produce the
desired results. In short, the plan forced — and will continue to
force — the FCC to step up to the plate and be the data-driven,
expert agency that it should always aspire to be.

So a special thank you to Ed Markey, who played a big
hand in pushing for the plan.

Next, Niebuhr — how we approached the recommendations.
Th ere are a number of varieties, but generally, it goes: “Grant me the
serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change
the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

If you think we needed a more militaristic inspiration, then
let’s say this part was inspired by Napoleon, who said, “In order
to govern, the question is not to follow a more or less valid theory
but to build with whatever materials are at hand. The inevitable
must be accepted and turned to advantage.” This might be our
motto: Aspire high, but find a practical road.

I would hope that we could agree that any viable
solution to better, faster broadband requires substantial
private investment. And if there is no indication
that a proposed solution will promote such
investment, then that solution is a theoretical exercise,
not a viable answer.

And finally, John Malone — how we adjust going
forward. At the Western Cable Show in 1992, John
Malone gave a speech in which he brilliantly predicted
that the impact of fiber optics, digitization,
and microprocessors would change the world.

He unfortunately then went on to predict that the impact
of that change would be a “500-channel universe.”
Th anks to many things,
including a then-unknown
student named
Marc Andreessen at the
University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign, the 500-channel universe was overtaken
by a universe of infinite channels.

This is what we learned from John Malone: that you can have
all the data right, all the analysis right, and still get the conclusion
wrong. We also learned from Malone that you can course-correct.

Within a few years, Malone led the cable industry into a deal
with John Doerr to create @Home, which lead the way to cable
becoming the leading broadband provider in the United States,
a situation duplicated almost nowhere else in the world.

Not to mention, of course, his ultimate course correction: selling
off cable and buying into DBS. Malone’s course correction
leads us to say this: The plan is in beta, and always will be.