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Week Ahead: A New Sheriff in Town

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From Weekly Report

WASHINGTON, August 31, 2009 – The broadband policy center of gravity is beginning to shift from northwest to the southwest – or at least from NW Washington, where the Commerce Department and its National Telecommunications and Information Administration is based, to SW Washington, at the Federal Communications Commission.

In the two months since Julius Genachowski was confirmed as chairman of the agency, he’s been pushing more and more for a wholescale “reinvention” of the way that the telecommunications referee does business. He’s brought on board many of the brightest stars in the broadband policy arena and appears to have given them the authority to run the national broadband policy initiative.

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[private_Premium Content][private_Free Trial]Genachowski has also put forward a fresh new web site, , which has the look and feel of a consumer-friendly internet portal, complete with blogs and now a Twitter feed (see page 5). Plus, he’s put another crew onto “FCC Agency Reform,” which prom¬ises another agency web site with features designed to help the average citizen monitor ex parte insider meet¬ings that take place at the agency.

More pointedly, Genachowski is taking action, early in the administration, on a topic that may herald far-ranging changes in the field of Net neutrality – at least insofar as it relates to wireless devices. He’s doing this with four words: innovation, investment, competi¬tion and consumers. He said them over and over again at the agency’s monthly meeting on Thursday.

Last week the agency issued three inquiries into various aspects of the wireless marketplace. One deals with innovation and investment; another with competition; and the third with consumer disclosure. And although the notices are phased in general terms, it’s unmistakable that Genachowski is putting the wireless industry on notice: he’s pushing for a wireless corollary to the Carterphone decision.

A Carterphone was a device that connected a land-line phone to a mobile radio. In 1968, the FCC held that – in spite of protestations by AT&T – that “any lawful de¬vice” that did not harm the telephone network could be connected to it. And that principle, in turn, has become one of the hallmarks of the FCC’s policy statement on “Net neutrality,” or the principle that consumer should have the freedom to do precisely that.

The question arises: what if a consumer wants to connect an Apple iPhone to another carrier’s network, and not that of AT&T’s? AT&T current offers the device exclusively to its customers. Many high-tech compa¬nies, including Skype, have been pushing for a wireless analog to the Carterphone ruling.

Last year, the FCC under Kevin Martin rejected a petition by Skype to do just that.

The 1968 decision is nowhere mentioned in the three notices. But in his opening statement, Genachows¬ki deftly did precisely that. Even more, he linked his support for Carterphone to a sympathetic dentist and innovator, Dr. James Marsters, who passed away on July 28.

Marsters, according to Genachowski, was pivotal in the invention of the text telephone, which is often called a teletype, or TTY device. The device enables the deaf to communicate by telephone.

“It was truly a transformational technical achievement,” Genachowski said. “The TTY become, following the landmark Carterphone decision, perhaps the earliest example of the power of innovation to unleash the genius of the inventor at the edge of the network.”

Just as with the actual Carterphone, “Marster’s inven¬tion was initially resisted, rather than embraced, by the phone companies,” Genachowski said.

“It is in the spirit of that great man” that the agency focuses on innovation and investment, competition and consumers. “These values lie at the core of the FCC’s mission.” [/private_Premium Content][/private_Free Trial]

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Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of and President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress. He is an attorney who works with cities, communities and companies to promote the benefits of internet connectivity. The articles and posts on and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

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