Can we really trust the lawyers at the FCC to get Net Neutrality right? Clearly, that's a loaded question - but during a session at the Web 2.0 Summit today, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski several times referenced all of the hard work being done by lawyers at the FCC.
The response came first during a question about the perception that things aren't getting done at the agency, despite President Obama's campaign message that broadband in the U.S. would be a priority. He recognized the perception but said "the facts don't support that."
He said the agency had the first release of unlicensed spectrum in 25 years and has taken steps to lower the costs of broadband buildout and to free up spectrum for mobile broadband. That work "tends to be boring and geeky but is the blood and guts" of the process that needs to happen, he said.
One of the biggest concerns is that there are still 24 million Americans who have no access to broadband and that the adoption rate among those who can access it is 65 percent, compared to 90 percent in Singapore. To drive it home, he referenced a study (but didn't say whose study) that ranked 40 Industrialized countries on the subject of broadband.
When it came to broadband deployment and adoption, the United States ranked 6 out of 40, a number that might cause some people to be surprised that it wasn't worse. More importantly, that same survey looked at the rate of improvement on broadband. The United States was last on the list. And without missing a beat, he noted how Applied Materials moved CTO Mark Pinto to Beijing. He said:
The question is: How many companies have to move CTOs overseas before we say we have a crisis?
In terms of Net Neutrality, one of the biggest challenges to face his agency so far was the April court ruling that FCC does not have the authority to require Comcast to treat all Internet traffic the same on its network. He referred to the ruling as "that frustrating and seriously incorrect decision from the courts" and said one of the most important things the FCC needs to do is to "make sure we get the rules right. "
So what about that Google-Verizon agreement that created so much controversy when it was released? Was it helpful or harmful? First, he said that when you get different players who have historically been on opposite sides to reach common ground, that's a good thing. But, he said:
I would have preferred if they didn't do exactly what they did when they did. I think it had an effect of slowing down other processes that could have led to a resolution.
But he also said that, given the choice between government policy makers and lawyers coming up with the answer or having others chime in with their thoughts about what would work, he would choose the latter.
So would I.