Federal Communications Commission

Author Archive

Reflections on Being Part of the National Broadband Plan Team – and a Look Ahead

August 24th, 2009 by Carlos Kirjner - Senior Advisor to the Chairman on Broadband

Carlos KrjinerIt is great fun to be part of the team developing the National Broadband Plan, notwithstanding the fact that I'm writing this at 10:45 pm at the FCC, waiting for a colleague to get ready so we can walk together to the Metro after a long day.  But there are several reasons why this is a fun project:

First, we all realize the importance of what we are doing. Yes, it is important for people in corporations, for politicians, and for policy makers. But it is also important for our friends, neighbors, and families. We want them to be proud of what we do and its impact on the country and the people of the United States. And it is fun to work on something truly important.

Second, there is a healthy mix of analysis and vision across a broad variety of very important topics. And variety is the spice of life!

For example, about a week ago, I had a discussion about several econometric studies on the relationship between broadband adoption and economic growth, and how much of what is written on the topic is depressingly bad: my 11 year old knows that correlation is not causation, but some economists clearly don't!  I'm looking forward to getting better information about the subject from our workshop on Wednesday of this week, entitled "Economic Growth, Job Creating, and Private Investment ."

Shortly after that discussion, I worked for a few hours on understanding the technological, regulatory, economic, and operational issues associated with ensuring that our first-responders have their communications needs met. I remembered the many hours I spent with Chiefs Hayden and Pfeiffer at the FDNY when we were working together to understand what happened on 9/11, and how they taught me to respect and value our firefighters and police officers (I am sure NYPD guys wont believe this, but it is true!).  We'll be hearing more about the topic Tuesday morning at our workshop on Public Safety and Homeland Security, followed by an afternoon session on Energy, Environment and Transportation; a session on Thursday afternoon after the Commission meeting will devote more time to technology, applications and devices.

Later that afternoon, I participated in a panel about education and broadband.  I could not stop thinking that every high school student in the U.S. should be able to watch the Feynman lectures on physics online (requires Silverlight 3.0) from their home as many times as needed until they truly understand why physics and math are both important and cool.  Every parent should be able to look up their child's homework assignments for next week on the web.  Every teacher should be able to access the best pedagogic content in the world to meet their student's needs.  And ours kids must be able to go to school without carrying bags weighing 20lbs. How to get there is a great challenge, as broadband is actually just a small piece of this puzzle.  We will be looking at a different facet of broadband and education Wednesday afternoon in a workshop on broadband's impact on job training programs

Finally, I had a two-hour meeting with Chairman Genachowski talking about the main policy issues we have identified so far in our work.  He was deeply engaged and helped us frame and advance our thinking on many important questions.

The third reason why it is fun to work here is the quality of the people. There are really smart and dedicated folks in the FCC, with tremendous expertise in important policy issues, like Universal Service and the FCC's authority to remove or impose obligations like build-out requirements or incentives to drive efficient use of spectrum. And most have a great sense of humor, which one needs to be able to keep up the pace.

Well, time to go. Enjoy the workshops this week.

The Definition of Broadband

August 20th, 2009 by Carlos Kirjner - Senior Advisor to the Chairman on Broadband

Carlos KrjinerToday the FCC is releasing a Public Notice, or PN, on the best way to define broadband. As the PN points out, much of the recent debate tends to center on throughput speeds. Engineers know that these numbers by themselves are most often misleading. For example, in most cases the "advertised" throughput speed has a tenuous relation with the actually delivered speed, which will actually vary over time, depending on the application, the server, and many other factors.

Both OfCom, which is the communications regulator in the UK, and Akamai have published studies based on meaningful numbers of end-user samples that show large the difference between advertised and actual rates.

In addition, for many important applications, such as voice and videoconferencing, other performance metrics, such as latency, are crucial.

But why do we care? Why do we need to think about broadband carefully? Several reasons:

  • If we want to decide who has and who does not have broadband, we actually need to agree on what we mean by broadband.
  • If we want to decide who can take advantage of one type of application or another, we need to know what they are actually getting today, and what is the gap between that and what they actually need to get
  • If we need to know how much it would cost the country to enable all or a subset of its households and businesses to take advantage of one application or another, we need to know what the gap is between where we are and where we want to be.
  • If we want to ensure that consumers have a clear and accurate view of what they are getting for their money, we need to decide what are the important metrics, and how to measure them.

And the list goes on. Bottom line: this is important. We want your input. We need your input. If you are an academic, a service provider engineer, a consumer, or anyone else with a stake in the outcome of the Plan, please read the PN, think about it, and share your best thinking.

It looks like a document written by lawyers to lawyers, but in there there are some important questions for the country.

**  You can submit brief comments here. Click on the radio button for the National Broadband Plan Notice of Inquiry - Docket 09-51.  If you want to file longer comments using an attachment, file comments here using the same docket number. **

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