FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell Addresses Broadband Issues at Heritage Foundation

Expert Opinion August 12th, 2008

, Former Reporter, BroadbandBreakfast.com

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WASHINGTON, August 12 – The FCC’s Robert McDowell was a featured speaker at this week’s blogger luncheon at the Heritage Foundation. The Republican Commissioner presented the group with an overview of the Commission’s recent work concerning broadband Internet services, addressing the issues of network management, cable franchising, spectrum auctions and spectrum management, deregulation of broadband services, and the debate over the US’ broadband performance.

On the topic of broadband data and national metrics for household connectivity, Commissioner McDowell cited a number of flaws in the current data that he has noted in the past and posited that the US is and will continue to be a world leader in consumer broadband. He also reiterated the importance of a hands-off approach when it comes to the regulation of broadband services.

Given the debate over the OECD metrics, I asked Commissioner McDowell what the best approach is to measuring broadband connectivity and he stressed the importance of utilizing a variety of samples, saying that “no one study will give you all the answers.”

I followed up and asked the Commissioner if he felt the current metrics employed by the FCC and the NTIA produced sufficient studies that give a good sense of broadband connectivity in the US. Commissioner McDowell felt there were plenty of improvements that could be made to these methods and mentioned the importance of getting a better sense of the speeds consumers are getting and the variety of technologies (like WiFi) they are using to access the Internet in particular.

The Commissioner concluded the discussion by saying that he “would like to see more detailed broadband mapping to end the debates.”

In addition to broadband data issues, the Commissioner also addressed questions regarding the Commission’s recent order in response to its investigation of Comcast’s network discrimination practices. Mr. McDowell expressed his displeasure with the decision, stating that the FCC is essentially “enforcing rules we don’t have.” The Commissioner briefly explained the regulatory history of broadband services – which have been deemed to be deregulated services as opposed to Title II regulated services – and stated that: “In this decision we explicitly foisted upon broadband services Title II regulation…this is the fatal flaw in the decision.” McDowell predicted that the order “will be shot down on appeal.”

The Commissioner suggested network management would be required to assure the quality of services that operate efficiently on broadband networks – citing Joost and Voice-over IP services as examples – and posited that the marketplace would be the best judge of network management practices.

While McDowell considers the Internet to be “the greatest deregulatory success story of all time,” he also noted that “net neutrality and media ownership….are huge grass-roots mobilizing issues for people who are on the fringe left and left of center” and that “the next Congress will have to pay off their base at some point.”

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