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Summary:

President-elect Obama will reportedly name Julius Genachowski as the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, replacing Kevin Martin. Genachowski will have to work hard to shift the focus away from incumbents telecommunication providers, and to come up with a broadband strategy befitting a country that has long been a technology leader and innovator. Instead of focusing on today’s access technologies of DSL and cable, the new FCC must focus on nurturing future opportunities. We’ve talked to some of our most trusted sources to come up with a detailed technology and broadband task list for the new administration to tackle.

julius-genachowski-thumb1President-elect Obama will name Julius Genachowski as the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the Wall Street Journal said today, adding weight to similar reports in the Washington Post from a few weeks ago. Aside from being Harvard buddies with Obama, Genachowski runs LaunchBox Digital, a Washington, D.C.-based startup accelerator program similar to YCombinator and TechStars. He may not fully represent the outside-the-Beltway perspective that we were looking for, but he does understand two things that should offer comfort to Silicon Valley — startups and new media.

More importantly, Genachowski is replacing Kevin Martin, who has proven to be such an enemy of the citizens, so obviously biased in favor of the big phone companies (he was a lobbyist, after all), that anyone with a sense of fairness and common sense would look like an improvement.

Genachowski and ultimately his boss, President Obama, will have to work hard to shift the focus away from incumbent telecommunication providers, and to ome up with a broadband strategy befitting a country that has long been a technology leader and innovator. Instead of focusing on today’s access technologies of DSL and cable, the new FCC must focus on nurturing future opportunities. We’ve talked to some of our most trusted sources to come up with a detailed technology and broadband task list for the new administration to tackle. It includes:

  • An Internet user bill of rights, with a focus on citizen privacy. Or as contributor Alistair Croll says, “Internet of the people, by the people, for the people.”
  • A focus on one key metric for all FCC decisions: a relentless obsession that helps the U.S. return to the global forefront of Internet and mobile technology.
  • An emphasis on future technologies (mostly wireless) that boost marketplace competition. For instance, large increases in license-free bandwidth could could lead to a lot of innovation without spending too much government money.
  • Special incentives to attract new players (and not older companies) that bring broadband to the masses.
  • Incentives or tax breaks for incumbents to reach specific deployment goals before the end of 2010. Incentives will only be granted after those goals are met and broadband speeds of upwards of 20 Mbps down and 10 Mbps up for less than $50 a month without bandwidth restrictions are available. This trades tax credits for rapid improvements to our nation’s broadband infrastructure.
  • Better and more connectivity to office buildings, especially from newer players.
  • An IP- and broadband-centric, rather than voice-centric, approach to reforming the Universal Service Fund.
  • Policies that bring quality of service into the wireless agenda, and penalize wireless companies which have high numbers of dropped call complaints.
  • An understanding that web monopolist Google, and other web companies, are not the consumer’s friend, so their agenda shouldn’t automatically be trusted.

According to a Stifel Nicolaus report, Genachowski will likely have the following effect on the main industries the FCC regulates:

  • Incumbent Telcos: Will see their influence wane, especially when it comes to securing protection for landline broadband access, but not disappear.
  • Cable MSOs: Will probably be better than Martin (who pushed, for example, for à la carte cable pricing), but Genachowski is also expected to “spell out digital public interest duties and be skeptical of industry requests for relaxation of ownership limits.”
  • Wireless Operators: Will help promote wireless broadband access in a variety of ways likely to benefit incumbents as well as new entrants. The battle lines will be drawn between wired broadband access and wireless, rather than the incumbents vs. the upstarts on this particular issue.

Genachowski was Obama’s top technology adviser during the presidential campaign, according to the Journal, and raised a considerable amount of money for the effort. Prior to incubating startups (so far only nine startups have graduated from LaunchBox, among them BuzzHub.com, Koofers.com and Heekya.com, and none have really become household names yet), Genachowski was chief of business operations and a member of Barry Diller’s office of the chairman at IAC/InterActiveCorp. He’s not entirely foreign to the FCC, as he served from 1994-1997 as chief counsel to then-FCC Chair Reed E. Hundt. For other positions, check out his Muckety map.

There’s no guarantee that Genachowski’s experiences will translate into consumer-friendly policy decisions on net neutrality, broadband access and competition, and other issues before the FCC, but his appointment does give us some hope — especially with regard to net neutrality and understanding the benefits of a fat pipe into the home to push web content. His willingness to assure consumer privacy on the web is a bit doubtful given his experience in new media, where advertising remains the dominant revenue source, but we eagerly wait his Senate confirmation to see which fights he takes on.

  1. [...] FCC should function as the Obama Administration tries to right this foundering economy: Its "task list" includes: • An Internet user bill of rights, with a focus on citizen privacy. Or as contributor [...]

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  2. If the focus is on wireless, then we are doomed. Wireless can deliver low performance but high ubiquity. It does not solve the last mile bandwidth to the home / office. To do that we need fiber to the home/office. And to make that afordable, it can’t be owned or operated by the Cable/Telcos. It needs to be a physical layer only transport service. Just like roads. A vibrant marketplace would emerge if there was dark fiber available in most places at cost that are amortized over appropriate for physical plant 30 year time periods.

    Its time for Re-Divestiture. Break up the Telcos, but this time correctly: horizontally.

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  3. [...] Apparently Picks New FCC Chair: Om and Stacey give the rumored incoming FCC chairman a to-do list. Not WiMax, but in the wireless [...]

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  4. Robert, you’re spot on with every point. As much as I like wireless, I’m continually annoyed by everyone in my industry who thinks it has to do all the things that fiber and cable already do much better.

    And yes, YES! We need horizontal lines, specifically between monopoly wiring plants and the service providers that run over them. The towns and states own and maintain the highways, but I can call any number of private taxicab companies when I want a ride to the airport. Or take a shuttle. Or drive myself…you get the idea.

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  5. I don’t understand why you guys think bandwidth should not be metered and paid for. That’s the best way to make the business of providing bandwidth profitable.

    Without allowing the business of providing bandwidth to be profitable, you will end up with either poor or inefficient internet connectivity.

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  6. The cost model does not map to metering and the usage model breaks when there is metering.
    Packet networks can share resources at a much finer grain than circuit switched networks for one thing.

    Another thing is that once physical plant is in place, it has very low opex costs. Its mainly initial capital costs and those are low compared to most traditional physical infrastructure. It comes out to about $3000 / home. Today the biggest cost is the Rights of Way, and that was given to the Telco/Cablecos for practicaly free and was paid for by ratepayers under the old Bell Monopolies, or City franchises.

    And once physical plant is in place (particularly fiber), the capacity can be increased every few years by replacing the active optical/electrical components on each end.

    The actual service on top would be normal market set rates where there can be competition. But there is an effective “natural” monopoly at the last mile/regional physical plant that fits more the model of roads, sewer and water than normal marketplace.

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  7. [...] the USA are way behind in broadband connectivity and without goverment incentives as mentioned in OM Malik’s post today, we will stay [...]

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  8. @robert

    > The cost model does not map to metering

    The cable companies would not be messing around, trying to throttle high-bandwidth protocols and suggesting bandwidth plans if they did not think that bandwidth truly mattered in their cost structure. The cost of additional bandwidth may be low, but it is not zero. And that additional bandwidth should absolutely be metered and paid for.

    > and the usage model breaks when there is metering.

    Some companies’ may be offering products where the usage model breaks without free bandwidth, but that’s not a good argument for forcing the isps to offer unlimited bandwidth.

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  9. > The cable companies would not be messing around, trying to throttle high-bandwidth protocols and suggesting bandwidth plans if they did not think that bandwidth truly mattered in their cost structure.

    Excuse me, but are you saying that because you understand and have experience with network architecture and deployment or because you just assume monopolies don’t just try to extract what the market will bear?

    The Telcos for sure, have chosen technologies to deploy (AT&T U-Verse with remote DSLAMs/VRADs, and Verizon FIOS passive optical networks) mainly based on limiting the ability of 3rd parties to share that infrastructure. These technologies also make it more difficult to ride “Moore’s Law” and continually upgrade bandwidth. There are much better technologies that could have been deployed that would have fit what is best for society and would have end costs that are lower.

    The Telco’s (which have over 100 years of experience) and the CableCos (who have less experience but are doing their best) at manipulating the regulators and optimizing to maintain their monopolies. Serving the customer and deploying what is best for society are barely on their radar.

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  10. Well, I’ve run internet businesses since 1996. So, I have some experience with network architecture and deployment. And, I have found that the cost of providing marginal capacity/serices (ie the cost of servicing that next customer) over the Internet is shockingly low. It is low, but not free.

    I basically want bandwith to be ubiquitous and cheap. Insisting on free is counter-productive to my mind. I would rather insist on full disclosure within an open, competitive market.

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