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INTX 2015: Pritzker Seeks Input On Broadband Report To President

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told an INTX closing general session audience May 7 that she welcomed ISPs' take on impediments to broadband investment for upcoming recommendations to the President. She signaled she wanted input from her audience on a number of issues.

She said the key takeaway from her appearance was that "we really want to work with the private sector on the various issues that are facing industries for which you are responsible and that are present here today."

In a Q&A with National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell, who called Pritzker one of the most significant business voices in the Obama Administration and the country, Pritzker pointed out that the President has made access to broadband a high priority, particularly in rural areas where there is less economic motivation, she pointed out. "We are excited to be engaged in that process," said Powell, who pointed out that cable started out as a rural service for people who could not get broadcast signals.

Commerce has teamed with the Department of Agriculture to form the Broadband Opportunity Council (Pritzker is co-chair), whose mission is to find ways the federal government can help promote broadband, adoption and "more competition," Powell said.

"We know that access to broadband is absolutely critical to the future of all Americans," Pritzker said, adding that the council welcomes input from ISPs on barriers that they are facing and issues that are impediments to investment, including identifying regulatory challenges. She said the goal of the council is to increase broadband investment, which she said she knew was near and dear to the audience. She said that included decreasing barriers.

The President has asked for a set of recommendations by Aug. 23 for what the Administration should be doing to lift barriers to investment in broadband.

Powell did not raise the issue of Title II when Pritzker talked about regulatory challenges, though opponents of reclassification, including ISPs and notably Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai, argue that reclassification is a definite disincentive to investment.

Pritzker said that she was "really impressed" with the industry's Connect2Compete broadband initiative.

She spoke up for cable operators as being on the forefront of innovation, and spoke of needed liability protection for sharing cybersecurity information with each other and government, which the Administration has backed in a bill that has passed the House. She called on the Senate to follow suit.

Powell said cybersecurity may be the biggest Achilles heel of the Internet age, and asked Pritzker for insight on how to combat it. Pritzker said cybersecurity was a ubiquitous and complex threat, and one that needed a team effort from government and industry to combat.

She also said she welcomed input on cybersecurity. "You are our customer," she said. "We need to better understand where you think we can play a more effective role."

Asked about privacy, Pritzker said the line between leveraging big data for beneficial uses and protecting privacy was not clear, and said that was why she brought in a chief data officer to Commerce. "This issue of protecting privacy, civil liberties and freedom to do businesses is one that we are going to have to work out."

She signaled that as the government develops a policy, it needs help in identifying the unintended consequences.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.