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Behind the Scenes Category

The Limits of Philosophy

September 11th, 2009 by Blair Levin - Executive Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

Blair LevinMy old friend Randy May recently criticized our staff workshops as focusing too little on  regulatory philosophy.  But that, I told him, was by design.

Randy was kind enough to say the workshops have been a useful exercise in involving more people and compiling data.  But I'm afraid his suggestion that we focus foremost on philosophy would have doomed our effort to deliver a comprehensive broadband plan to Congress by Feb. 17, 2010.

Why?  Congress, for starters, told us to devise a plan that will connect every unconnected home.  So if you were trying to solve that problem, where would you start?  With philosophy or facts?

Obviously, you need the facts.  We need to know how many homes are unconnected, where they are, what the technological options are for connecting them, the cost.  Staff got a lot of helpful facts from our workshops, and is busy gathering additional data on this and many, many other questions right now.

Before too long, we will deliver facts and options to the Comissioners, and it will be time to begin discussing philosophical issues, such as the appropriate role of the public sector.  But to do so now would cut off critical fact-gathering.  Moreover, fact-gathering based on a particular regulatory philosophy could effectively blind us to the importance of information that is right before our eyes.

So step back, Socrates.  There's method in our madness.

For my more complete thoughts on this subject, read the speech I gave at Randy's conference celebrating the publication of a new book he just edited on "New Directions in Communications Policy."

The Gov 2.0 Summit

September 9th, 2009 by Eugene Huang - Government Operations Director

EugeneHuang1Tomorrow, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and I will be speaking at the Gov 2.0 Summit on the topic of "Broadband as a Platform," during a session scheduled to start at 4 p.m.

The Gov 2.0 Summit is tackling some of the same questions we are examining in the Omnibus Broadband Initiative as we develop a National Broadband Plan at the FCC.  For example, our Government Operations Team held a workshop on Aug. 6 that evaluated how broadband can improve the performance of government in terms of transparency, effectiveness and efficiency, and examined how new media, including social networking tools, advance civic participation.

In the weeks to come, we welcome your continued thoughts and ideas on what Government 2.0 looks like, and look forward to continuing the conversation at the Gov 2.0 Summit on September 10th.

Additional information on the Gov 2.0 summit may be found here.

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.

Fortune Cookies

August 18th, 2009 by Blair Levin - Executive Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

One of the many challenges of creating a National Broadband Plan is dinner: it's hard to get it when you're working late into the evening to meet Congress's Feb. 17, 2010 deadline to reboot broadband deployment and usage in the U.S.  So maybe there was some kind of karmic reward in two fortune cookies that staff cracked open at the end of our team's break for Chinese one night.

John Horrigan, a data guy we stole from the Pew Internet Project, pulled out a fortune that read "Statistics are no substitute for judgment."

Steve Rosenberg, a former McKinsey analyst who is helping on modeling and mapping, opened one that said "No problem can stand the assault of sustained thinking."

Both fortunes-unusual topics in my many years of opening such cookies--bode well, I think, for the National Broadband Plan.

It's true that gathering data will be key to developing a solid plan, and we're doing that as we hold weeks of staff workshops, solicit new comments on targeted subjects, and then in the fall, travel to field hearings.  Plus, there's the new local broadband data that came pouring into the FCC this spring, which we are scrubbing, slicing and dicing and soon hope to have at our fingertips.

But data means nothing if we don't exercise good judgment about what it all means. I'm confident we have assembled a great team who can cut to the chase and develop options and recommendations that are likely to produce what Congress wanted: universal, robust broadband for all Americans and a broadband platform that will enable innovators, entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profits and all levels of governments to find new solutions to our nation's problems.  And I'm confident that the FCC, Congress, and others in government will exercise good judgment when they determine how to implement those recommendations.

But that will require sustained thinking, and our broadband team is leading an assault of sustained thinking by the entire FCC on the stubborn problem of bringing broadband to unserved and underserved areas, increasing the number of Americans using broadband, and maximizing how broadband can be used to help address significant national issues.  Expect the unexpected. Nothing is pre-baked but the fortune cookies.



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