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Genachowski: Rate Regs, Unbundling Off the Table

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Thursday (May 13) that rate regulation, wholesale unbundling and reselling are "off the table" when it comes to applying Title II regs to broadband transmission.

That came in an interview with National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow at a general session at the Cable Show in Los Angeles. McSlarrow, who had sought the assurances, asked how could the industry be sure a future chairman--he pointed out the industry had had trouble with past chairmen--would not see it differently and not forbear those portions of Title II common carrier regs.

Genachowski said that the FCC has never gone back on forbearance decisions. The subject came up after McSlarrow said they had to talk about the elephant in the room (and even flashed a slide of an elephant with Title II on its side). They did.

McSlarrow said the regulatory impact of a change in a system that is relatively lightly regulated (under Title I information service regs) to one where the outcome is unknown has raised a lot of questions in the past few weeks.

"We did not let the elephant out of the cage," Genachowski responded. He also said nothing that has happened in the past few weeks has changed the goals of the FCC.  He said the BitTorrent case damaged the legal underpinnings of those goals, but not the goals. It damaged the foundation under the house, he said, but suggested the house still stands. "We had a problem to solve," he said, "and we are just at the beginning."

Genachowski said his goal was getting back to a solid legal foundation that allows the commission to do what it has previously articulated, but not more. He rejected the do nothing extreme--"I think that was me," said McSlarrow, as well as the other extreme of applying all 48 title II regs to all of broadband. He called his approach one that has barriers to regulatory overreach and creep, while still fixing the foundation and letting the commission move forward with the broadband plan.

McSlarrow asked if there is a risk if the government regulates operators, but not applications providers like Google. Genachowski said the issue is not about Google, but the next Google or Amazon, about speakers who don't want to be censored on the 'net, and about consumers connecting on the Internet. "Our focus is on that," he said. The chairman began the interview with a shout-out for the industry. The country would not be here talking about broadband adoption were it not for the pioneers of the cable industry and the cable modem, he said, calling it "an amazing American success story."

But the chairman was also critical of the nation's broadband progress, saying it needed to do better. "We are not on the Olympic podium when it comes to broadband," he said, citing speed and innovation metrics.

Back in Washington at a Hill hearing on the FCC's National Broadband Plan, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) said he was tired of hearing such criticisms (speaking generally, not responding to Genachowski), pointing out that there was over 90% deployment, and two thirds of those were taking it.

Genachowski said that consumers and the industry both recognize it would be "desireable" for consumers to have an easy, integrated way to access video. He called the FCC's set-top inquiry a "fresh look" at the issue. "The cable industry has been very constructive in this," he said, citing the consumer principles NCTA offered up on set-tops.

McSlarrow pointed out that Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts had displayed an iPad app at the show that essentially turned it into a remote control. "There is a lot going on," he said, suggesting there is currently innovation in the navigation space. Genachowski agreed that kind of example is at the core of innovation in the 21st century. "It is great to see these industries seize these opportunities." Genachowski said it was not a big jump from that iPad app to electronic textbooks.

McSlarrow said that what is coming through the pipe is also key. He complimented the chairman for the FCC's recent decision to allow a selectable output waiver for early release of HD movies for VOD.

Genachowski said the waiver illustrates that "we mean what we say." He said it was important to preserve the freedom and openness of the 'net, but has also said the FCC needs to do it in a way that encourages experimentation. He said if the FCC can't find a way to get a real healthy return, it won't work. This order is an example in a concrete way of us balancing the need for an open Internet and one that allows speakers to speak and business models to develop and intellectual property to be protected.