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Levin: 'Pretty Good' Year forBroadband Plan

Blair Levin, former executive
director of the FCC's National Broadband Plan, says that it has been a
"pretty good year" for the plan.

He says it has been a case of
"two steps forward, one step back," and that there are some things
about which he has said "great" and others where he said "oh,
really?" But he also said that is to be expected and that the plan was not
meant to be a blueprint where everything has to be exactly right.

In an interview for C-SPAN's
Communicators series, Levin said that the plan was always meant to be an
"agenda-setting and target-clarifying device." That means that it has
targets to both shoot for and shoot at.

He cited spectrum reform,
Universal Service Fund reform and rights-of-way reform as among its key issues.

Levin said he thought the debate
had gone "off track" on the spectrum reform issue. He said the issue
to resolve is not whether to reallocate spectrum, but how to reallocate it on
an ongoing basis to serve evolving needs.

The most important resource the
government controls is spectrum, he said, and the need to reallocate that as
needs arise is getting lost in debates like repacking broadcasters and whether
to allocate or auction the D block.

Levin said he supported incentive
auctions, which would compensate broadcasters for exiting spectrum in favor of
wireless broadband. One alternative would be to wait for a crisis, then have
the government just come in and take the spectrum, he said. He would be "OK"
with that, but said that it was a "crisis" response that would lead
to years of litigation. Incentive auctions would be a market-based solution,
which he favors.

Asked whether broadcasters are sitting
on underutilized capital, he said some are and some aren't, but that the market
should determine whether, post cable and internet, there was still a need for
25 or 30 TV stations in New
York. For the 25th
broadcaster in New York, it may be more valuable to sell the spectrum, he

Levin said he did not think it was
likely the FCC would make an end-of-summer deadline for reforming the Universal
Service Fund. But he said, with a smile, that the commission should be forgiven
for missing its deadline by a month or two--Levin's broadband plan missed its
initial deadline. That deadline was not as important as moving in the right
direction, he said.

The former FCC chief of staff did
not entirely rule out his candidacy for the next open Democratic FCC
seat-likely that of Michael Copps, who is exiting by year's end--but he
indicated that was not on his radar. He said he had work at the Aspen
Institute, where he is currently employed, that "would be more fun than
being the next commissioner.... I think I'd prefer to keep working on some of
the stuff that I am working on at Aspen. I think that is more important for me right now."