FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski: “Consumers Need to Make the Internet Work.”

In an interview with Steve Grove, YouTube’s head of news and politics, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski discussed his goals in implementing the FCC’s National Broadband Plan. Genachowski’s priorities include serving all Americans with broadband coverage while increasing private-sector competition and improving information available to consumers.

genachowski“There is very little that is more important to the FCC than promoting competition in the provision of broadband services.” said Chairman Genachowski, “Competition is what will get us lower prices, better services, innovation and investment…it’s a vital issue, and there’s no silver bullet.”

One innovative initiative designed to increase competition is to increase the availability of accurate information about broadband speeds to consumers.  “Right now, when many people see ads about broadband speeds see “up to” ads,” noted Chairman Genachowski. “In this world, they’re called advertised speeds.  One of the things that the broadband plan proposes is to arm consumers with information about actual speeds.  Our research shows that actual speeds are often much lower than advertised speeds.”

When asked if he considered the Internet to be critical infrastructure or a commercial service, Chairman Genachowski replied, “both.   It’s for our generation what telephones, electricity, canals were for prior generations.  We have to take it seriously.  Just like in the 20th century, the electric grid gave us all sorts of innovations…in the 21st century, it’ll be our information that gives us all of this.”

For Chairman Genachowski, spreading broadband access is essential to make cost-saving innovations like healthcare IT or the smart grid accessible.   “It’s what we really need to deliver on smart grid and energy savings.  Every consumer needs to have broadband access so that they can know what energy they’re using and help put pressure on…[their] area to move to a clean energy future.”

One obstacle that Chairman Genachowski sees impeding broadband is the finite availability of the communications spectrum, “are no easy pickings on the spectrum chart.”  But, he says, “unleashing spectrum is critically important.  We have the opportunity to lead the world in mobile. It’s really essential.”  He cites the example of the “junk band.” Once, this part of the wireless spectrum seemed completely useless, and was used for garage door openers, but the advent of Wi-Fi changed that.  “We need to free [wireless spectrum] up for licensed use, we need to free it up for unlicensed use for things like Wi-Fi.”

Chairman Genachowski also discussed so-called net neutrality or open internet rules, that would prohibit service providers from cutting bandwidth to web-based services that are bandwidth-intensive or provided by competitors.  “Keeping the Internet free and open is a pro-innovation, pro-economic growth, pro-job creation strategy,” he says.  “That’s what we know from the last twenty years of an Internet with an open architecture.  We need to make sure that as the next generation of the Internet and broadband unfolds, that we preserve the freedom and the openness of the Internet that has served us so well.”

He added, “One of the reasons we’re pushing so hard on universal broadband – high speeds, low prices – is because of small businesses.  Wherever you are in this country, whether you’re in a small town or an inner city, you ought to be able to start a small business and you ought to be able to take an existing small business and expand it.”

Asked how open Internet rules would apply to mobile devices, the FCC Chairman said “there is a real debate about whether exclusive contracts that most people get when they get mobile phones promote innovation or hinder innovation.”  He added, “There’s a related issue which goes to some rural areas, where there might be no local provider that offers a particular kind of phone, because the company with the exclusive rights isn’t there.”

As to other major changes in FCC’s policies for the 21st century, the Chairman outlined a major overhaul of the Universal Service Fund.   “We have the Universal Service Fund, which is an $8 billion a year program.  It’s going to good programs now for rural America, for inner-city America, for schools and health clinics, it’s just focused on 20th-century telephone service.  Our plan cuts the traditional program and shifts that money as fast as we can to broadband, so that we’re meeting for the Internet the goals that we’ve met for telephone service.”

To sum up, the FCC Chairman said that his goal was to “remove all barriers to competitors, wired and wireless, so that we have vibrant, robust, healthy competition…consumers need to make the Internet work.”

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