Federal Communications Commission

Speech Category

The Fourth Challenge

April 30th, 2010 by Mark Wigfield - Spokesman, Omnibus Broadband Initiative.

Omnibus Broadband Initiative Executive Director Blair Levin prepared this speech today for delivery at a forum at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research at Stanford University.

It’s getting to be graduation time, both for the class of 2010 and for those of us who spent the last year working on the National Broadband Plan.

So this speech is kind of a valedictory address, a capstone that implores policymakers today—that’s us—and in the future—that’s you—to confront the most critical challenge to our national broadband future.

Before I discuss that challenge, I want to thank all of you for hosting me here today. 

Thanks in particular to Greg Rossten for that kind introduction.

Last June, I rejoined the FCC to assist in writing the National Broadband Plan.

Already, one-third of the time Congress had allotted to write the Plan had passed. There was no staff dedicated to its completion and it had no clear budget.

[Read the full speech here.]

Private Investment and the National Broadband Plan

April 23rd, 2010 by Mark Wigfield - Spokesman, Omnibus Broadband Initiative.

Omnibus Broadband Initiative Executive Director Blair Levin gave this speech Wednesday at the Congressional Internet Caucus’ State of the Mobile Internet Conference in Washington, D.C.

"Over the last 9 months, I had the pleasure of working with a wonderful team who dedicated every day to trying to figure out how America could have the healthiest broadband ecosystem in the world.

Our answer is complex, filling more than 300 pages of Plan and hundreds more of post-Plan technical papers.

But one consistent theme is that the health of that ecosystem depends heavily—in fact, primarily—on private investment.

Today I want to discuss how we thought about private investment–in particular, the relationship between private investment and the mobile Internet.

If we get the implementation of the mobile piece of the Plan right, we can precipitate a massive private investment boom and build a world-leading broadband ecosystem.... "

[Read the full speech here.]

Civic Engagement in the 21st Century

March 2nd, 2010 by Eugene Huang - Government Operations Director

As someone who has spent a significant amount of my career in the tech industry, I cannot tell you how optimistic I am about the future of civic engagement. This optimism was made even greater by my visit to MIT yesterday. While there, I had the opportunity to tour their Media Lab and see first hand some of the forward leaning, innovative uses of broadband that will help to transform how citizens engage. The Media Lab is working on important issues, especially when it comes to thinking about technology and its future impact on society. That is why I’m particularly grateful to have been invited by MIT’s Center for Civic Media to participate in today’s symposium entitled “The Future of Civic Engagement in a Broadband-Enabled World.”

The implications for civic participation as broadband becomes ubiquitous are enormous. Here at the FCC, we’ve spent the last few months poring over the extensive record on the issue. The working recommendations that we have developed for the National Broadband Plan will harness this potential and move the nation towards governance that is more open, accountable and participatory. These recommendations aim to increase the public’s access to both mediated and unmediated information, and to make greater use of broadband-enabled technologies and tools to provide greater and higher quality ways for citizens to engage their government and each other.

We’ve organized our work into five areas:

  1. Creating an open and transparent government.
  2. Developing a robust digital public media ecosystem.
  3. Expanding civic engagement through social media.
  4. Bringing innovation to government.
  5. Modernizing democratic processes.

I hope that you will share your feedback on the speech that I will be giving at the symposium (see remarks below), and offer a few ideas of your own

[Read the full speech here.]

Update: video from the symposium


How the National Broadband Plan Will Encourage Investment

February 24th, 2010 by Blair Levin - Executive Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

I'm speaking to a group of institutional investors about the Plan on  today.  It will be in a question and answer format, but I thought I would share how I will approach the conversation.

I hope to talk about how the Plan will affect the investment climate for what we think of the broadband ecosystem (suppliers of network services, devices and applications) both on the demand and supply sides. The Plan will increase demand and impact supply in every part of the ecosystem in the long-term in a few ways.

First, the plan will accelerate the move of certain sectors from processes designed and optimized for the technology of the past to more efficient processes enabled by broadband. 

As we discussed at the last Commission meeting, certain sectors of the economy-health care, education, public safety, energy, government services-have not utilized new, broadband-enabled processes nearly as effectively as they can.  We have identified barriers to that use that, if overcome, should spark an important increase in the demand for broadband across the board.

For an example of how such changes can positively affect the ecosystem, look at slide 101 from our September, 2009   meeting.  It reports on a study that demonstrated that using hosted electronic health records could save 18% over having such records on the doctors' own servers.  These savings are enjoyed even though for such hosting to work, the doctors have to spend twice as much on connectivity.  As noted in the slide, the dollar savings are only the beginning of the benefits of such services.

[Read the full speech here...]

Making the Nation Ready for Broadband

February 23rd, 2010 by Blair Levin - Executive Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

At last week's open Commission meeting, I explained how writing a National Broadband Plan is like solving a mystery.

The mystery involves why some parts of the economy have embraced modern communications to greatly improve their performance while others lag far behind.

We see this in our daily lives.

Since I started using ATM machines and moved to online banking, I, like millions of others, don’t exchange information with a bank the way I did 10 or even 5 years ago.

Why is it that when I recently had the occasion to visit a great emergency room in Chicago, they collected data from me just like a hospital I visited while in college?

When I started as an equity analyst, my firm physically published notes but within a short time relied entirely on digital distribution.

Why is it that despite my having graduated high school almost forty years ago, my sophomore daughter’s back-pack, and its 25 pounds of books, looks just like mine did? 

Indeed, some of the books appear old enough that they might be the same.

Since 9/11, a day we all watched television news networks together, we’ve radically altered how we obtain news.

Why is it that the networks our first responders rely on, networks the 9/11 Commission told us we needed to upgrade, still offer technology that could only be considered modern by the standards of the last century.

A recent book--Wired for Innovation—offers some clues.  In researching why certain companies benefit from the use of information technology while others, similarly situated, do not, the authors found the benefits of the technology only come to life if the companies also change their fundamental processes and develop what the authors refer to as a digital culture.  Having technology is not enough.

Similar clues can be found in the 1990 paper, “The Dynamo and the Computer”, which explored why major innovations in microelectronics, fiber optic communications and computing had not yet shown up in productivity statistics.

Part of the answer turns out to be diffusion lag---it takes time for one technical system to replace another.  The author points out in the early 1900’s factories didn’t reach 50% electrification until four decades after the first central power station opened.

One cause of that diffusion lag was the unprofitability of replacing “production technologies adapted to the old regime of mechanical power derived from water and steam.”  

The problem was not just getting the electricity.

It was the cost of completely reengineering factories to benefit from electric power over the tried and embedded techniques of an earlier time.

So today, some sectors of our economy have a diffusion lag in adopting their processes to take advantage of the modern communications era.

But why?

Solving the mystery of today’s diffusion lag turns out to be critical to what Congress asked us to do in directing us to give our country a plan for utilizing broadband to advance national goals.

The world, the economy, the way we live our lives, are all moving from the analog to the digital.   Yet some sectors---particularly health care, education, energy, public safety and government generally---are not keeping up with the opportunities presented by information communications technology, and thereby keeping us from achieving a high-performing America.

The national  broadband plan will show how our country can act to utilize broadband to have these sectors perform at a higher level. 

While the challenges are different than those faced in transforming our industrial base to electrification, it is similar in that an old regime--in this case regulations, reimbursement policies, and other requirements--has created barriers to improvements. 

The plan will present ways we need to act to remove those barriers, overcome the diffusion lag and capture the opportunities that others are already seizing.


Wired for Social Justice

January 25th, 2010 by Gray Brooks - FCC New Media

This past Friday, Blair Levin, Executive Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative, delivered a speech entitled 'Wired for Social Justice.'  Blair spoke at the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council's Broadband and Social Justice Summit this past Friday. 


When President Eisenhower was desegregating schools and the Armed Forces, he said: “there must be no second class citizens in this country.”

No one in this room would argue. But as society changes, the attributes of citizenship can change as well.

And so in every age the question must be asked anew: “Are our policies contributing to a form of second class citizenship?”

This is a question we have spent a great deal of time—difficult time—working on as we try to develop a national broadband plan.

And that is what I want to talk about today.

I want to have a frank conversation about how we can ensure that in a society in which citizens increasingly interact, transact, communicate, collaborate, contribute and work online, digital citizenship is denied to no one.

Over the last thirty years, we have seen increases in income inequality, residential segregation and social isolation, and the concentration of disadvantage.

The number of neighborhoods today with a dangerous poverty rate—poverty above 30%-- is higher than it was in 2000.

In areas with a dense concentration of poverty, jobs disappear. Opportunity disappears.  The American tradition of justice, of achieving the American dream, emphasizes equality of opportunity – of having access to equal sets of resources that can enable us, our families, our children to succeed.

Let me be clear: access to high-speed Internet, even when paired with the digital skills needed to use it, is not a guarantee of such opportunity – it also requires values such as hard work and diligence that neither technology nor government can provide.

But broadband can help people get access to better jobs, better education, better health care information and improved government services.

And those services should be accessible anytime, anywhere, not requiring a day spent traveling to and waiting in line at government welfare offices in the midst of a workday.

This is no theoretical exercise. Connecting those previously excluded can bring real results.

(Continue reading here...)



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