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Panelists at FCC Workshop Debate Agency’s Role in Funding Broadband Research

in Broadband Data/National Broadband Plan by

WASHINGTON, November 25, 2009 - In a workshop held Monday at the Federal Communications Commission, academics and industry leaders outlined their concerns and suggestions about the upcoming national broadband plan. The workshop, organized by the FCC’s national broadband taskforce, sought answers to specific questions about how research funding can propel technology innovation.

“You asked about the state of research funding for broadband related research,” commented David Clark, senior research scientist at MIT. “Overall, I believe the level of funding for network research… has been inadequate to meet the needs of the nation and certainly the research community.”

Clark continued that “I see bright students, receiving Ph.D.s in the field, choosing not to go into academia because they see the job of a junior faculty member, even at a prestigious university, as difficult and unrewarding.”

“It makes most sense for industry to invest in research when it can appropriate the results of that work. Enhancements that might advance the state of the world as a whole, but not the player that funded the research, are hard to justify in an industrial lab.”

Therefore, he said, “federally-funded research is more likely to result… in socially beneficial outcomes.”

Federal funding would allow people to focus on research instead of lobbying for grants. An additional benefit is increased impartiality by researchers. Privately-funded research will inherently favor the interests of the benefactor, suggests Clark, while federal funding would help resolve this problem.

At this point in time, however, it is unclear what kind of role the FCC will be allowed to play in promoting and funding research.

“The FCC does not have in its charter any kind of grant-making responsibility?” questioned Clark. “If the FCC wanted to be in the grant-making business, then the question is, would Congress go along with that?”

Other panelists also felt that collaborative research and increased understanding are essential to the future success of the United States in broadband technologies.

“I just think that at the end of the day we need to make very sure that we understand that technology races ahead, people struggle to catch up, and policy is somewhere back here,” said Mike Nelson of the Communications Culture and Technology Program of Georgetown University.

“If we have the world’s best technology, and we don’t have any understanding of how the policy, and the psychology, and the economics affect the employment, then we haven’t done our job,” continued Nelson.

“It’s really great to talk about how we collaborate between the great research that you [the specialists] do and the mainstream,” said Erik Garr, on the FCC’s national broadband taskforce.

Garr said that increasing the availability of broadband network is a key way to increase communication and overall effectiveness of the high-speed internet ecosystem.

Marcus Weldon of Bell Labs reminded the group that to achieve these aims, “grand challenge” ideas must be focused on. These overarching ideals might help provide a driving force idea as the National Broadband Plan develops. The plan is due for release on February 17, 2010.

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