On Friday, Technology | Academics | Policy (TAP) attended the Free State Foundation’s third annual Winter Telecom Policy Conference at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., focusing on broadband policy issues.
Commissioner Baker came down hard on the FCC’s net neutrality proposal during a keynote presentation, calling the move an overreach of the FCC’s regulatory authority and saying policy actions should focus on promoting innovation and competition.
Panelists from the public and private sectors, including representatives from the FCC, Cisco, AT&T, Comcast and the Aspen Institute, as well TAP scholar Christopher Yoo of the University of Pennsylvania, later discussed the importance of and barriers to broadband adoption. Here, Joe Waz of Comcast cited both a lack of digital literacy and the cost of equipment as key challenges and called for greater involvement from businesses. Yoo raised the question of whether today’s anti-regulatory political environment would allow for much headway to be made on net neutrality, although he indicated the long-term view may be more promising in delivering solutions.
A second panel moderated by Wall Street Journal tech reporter Amy Schatz focused on spectrum reform, with panelists from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), Verizon, the Minority Media & Telecom Council, Aspen Institute, FCC and T-Mobile discussing how the federal government should move forward with releasing 500 Megahertz of unused spectrum to the private sector for broadband use. Broadband access was identified as a priority in President Barack Obama’s recent State of the Union speech, and the NTIA pointed to its recently proposed plan and timetable for making the spectrum available. There was a clear sense of urgency from the panelists on the need to make the spectrum available; Tom Sugrue of T-Mobile pointed out that other countries have now outpaced us in allocating unused spectrum, threatening the competitiveness of the United States as new tech devices continue to suck up current bandwidth.
The conference closed with a one-on-one chat between Free State Foundation President Randolph May and FCC Chairman Robert McDowell on FCC policies and processes, examining how the FCC got to where it is today and what its regulatory role might look like in the future. McDowell made it clear such decisions ultimately rest with Congress, but suggested a continued focus on policies promoting competition and asked if policy questions should be left to others, such as the Exec Branch, to allow the FCC to focus on enforcement.
For video of the keynote and panel presentations, visit C-SPAN.org.