FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said Tuesday (March 16)
that the cable industry already had a broadband plan that was working to
achieve the government's goal of high-speed service to 100 million households
The FCC officially unveiled its national broadband plan
Tuesday, but given that much of the plan had already been revealed piecemeal,
the unveiling was primarily a chance for the commissioners to weigh in on it in
public statements, including McDowell's suggestion that the cable industry was
ahead of the game.
The plan itself was not a vote-able item, but the
commissioners did unanimously vote to approve a statement about the importance
The plan contains some 200 recommendations, about half to
the FCC, the majority of the rest to various other government agencies, with a
few action items for Congress.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that the FCC will act
on those items, which include proposed rulemaking, with the urgency that the
broadband challenge demands.
While all the commissioners praised the broadband team for
tireless efforts in assembling the plan, there were some notes of caution,
particularly from Commissioner Robert McDowell.
Taking a page from the prescription tablet of the
Hippocratic oath, he said the plan should "first and foremost do no
He pointed out that cable modem service is already available
to 92% of households. "Merely by upgrading cable systems with the DOCSIS
3.0 system, which is expected to happen over the next few years anyway,"
he said, over 104 million American homes will have access to speeds of up to
100 mbps. In other words, unless the government provides disincentives to
investment, the plan's goal of reaching 100 million households with 100 mbps
services should be attained well before 2020 if we allow current trends to
continue in an unfettered manner."
The first among McDowell's his concerns is that he said the
plan "opens the door" to reclassifying broadband as a voice service
under Title II of the Communications Act.
Some groups suggested the FCC may need to do that if a D.C.
court held that it did not have ancillary authority to adopt Internet regulations
under its classification of broadband as an information service not subject to
mandatory access regulations.
"Not only do I doubt that such a reclassification would
survive appeal, I don't see how foisting a regulatory framework first devised
in the 19th century would help a competitive 21st century marketplace continue
to thrive," said McDowell.
He also took issue with proposals for a digital media fund,
or suggestions for a national framework for Internet taxation. "Federal
preemption of Internet taxation could be beneficial, but only if it results in
more freedom," he said.
McDowell said he had been hopeful that the plan would
contain a chapter on tax incentives to explore investment.
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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.