Decontructing (Michael) Powell


Gartner Group’s Ken McGee conducted a very in-depth (and somewhat long winded) interview with Federal Communication Commission head honcho Michael Powell recently. In this interview Powell talks about the importance of broadband, death of long distance companies (no surprise) and how VoIP changes everything. It is an interesting insight into the man, who at times has been bit of an enigma. I am not a big fan of his, but I agree with some of his policies.

Unlike the phone system, which is engineered around an application, the Internet layered model allows you to, in essence, separate applications from infrastructure. What’s exciting about that is almost any platform can be a broadband bit-carrying platform. Already we have doubled our utility, with digital subscriber line (DSL) and cable modem technologies, which is better than the one-technology approach of twisted copper wire deployed by telephone companies a century ago. And there’s unquestionably going to be a third technology — in some places fixed wireless, satellite or something else, such as broadband over the power line.

When he makes comments like these, you admire the man. But then the very next minute, you wonder how will all that happen, given his track record of being beholden to the phone companies. The Baby Bells in specific. How will he get the companies he wants to change play ball with his vision of the world, basically is what flummoxes me a bit.

This country is wasting too much time on this problem, when the real game is someplace else — broadband and not just plain old communications services. That’s where everyone has to be, and where all are going. In two years, no one significant will be competing using unbundled network elements. So should the U.S. Supreme Court spend its time and resources on a case that won’t even be ruled on until July 2005? Can the market afford another year of uncertainty?

He clearly understands the need of the hour, but then plays god, when he says that to hell with MCI and AT&T. Why? Shouldn’t he be creating a level playing field and getting everyone to compete. The competition from UNE-P is what has kept the prices of telecom services down and forced the Bells to introduce DSL services in areas where there was no hope.

I’ve started thinking about networks as Legos. There are red bricks and blue bricks, and you can snap the bricks together. Our notion currently is the network, this network and that network. Networks are going to be separable and distinguishable from the way we think of them today. If I was the CEO of a phone company, I’d be equally worried about Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Carly Fiorina, and Intel, consumer electronics manufacturers or the cable companies.

I think when he starts talking about technology, I find him at his best, and perhaps the most intriguing. I don’t think he totally understands the complexity of the networks, and how quickly technology is making him and his organization irrelevant. He does not address the issues of broadband-based applications in depth, or neither does he address the changes in the consumer consumption of digital content. Those are going to be real issues going forward. Nevertheless, it is still an excellent interview, worth your time.

Link to the Interview on Gartner website

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