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FCC Wants Broadband Access For All Citizens

Speaking before his first International CES as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Julius Genachowski told Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) president Gary Shapiro that fostering access to broadband by all citizens will be one of the prominent missions on his agenda and that the FCC will strive to promote competition and transparency in the decision-making process to achieve it.

Shapiro led off the session by asking the chairman for his opinion about a debate arising from a U.S. District Court case in Washington during CES concerning who should control the rules around access to the Internet, and whether or not the FCC had any actual authority in such matters.

Genachowski appeared non-committal, saying, “The litigation underscores for me the importance of developing sensible rules of the road around freedom of the Internet. We will obviously watch what happens and act accordingly, but it is the importance of making sure that we preserve freedom of the Internet that has led to the tremendous amount of innovation we have seen here at CES.”

Genachowski said the country has benefited enormously from the open architecture that was built into the medium, calling the notion that open Internet platforms are good business “healthy.”

Genachowski said his hope is for an “outcome that preserves freedom of the Internet” and “promotes innovation, promotes investment and promotes the free flow of expression.”

He said that preserving and promoting competition among broadband service providers is “a critical policy objective” of the FCC because it “solves many, many problems.”

He said it was for that reason that a transparency system was added to the FCC’s policy for determining open Internet principles.

Genachowski said, “Some of the problems that we have had have come out of the confusion and mystery about what’s going on. I absolutely believe that sunshine can be a great disinfectant in this area, that empowering consumers with information can promote competition and reduce the [need] for government getting involved.”

He added that “a key, important goal” on a number of issues before the commission will be to remove the barriers to competition.

Regarding the national broadband plan, Genachowski said the country is faced with a serious spectrum gap, and that demand in the future could exceed capacity.

“The record is clear: We need to find more spectrum,” he said. “One of the areas, not by choice, that I have to spend time on every day is spectrum scarcity. There’s not enough spectrum available to do what we as a country need to do.”

Shapiro also asked about the status of the open cable rules that requires cable operators to make set-boxes for their platforms available through retail. The CEA president called the 14-year process frustrating.

Genachowski said the FCC is looking for ways to foster innovation in the video sector, pointing at the commission’s recent inquiry into finding ways to promote the ability to access Internet video through set-tops.

He said that because many homes in this country don’t have computers, the commission staff was exploring ways in which broadband could be brought to homes through the living room TV set.

This would open access to such critically important tasks as searching for jobs and helping children accomplish Internet-oriented school assignments.