Aspen Institute Communications and Society Fellow Blair Levin Gives Insight to National Broadband Plan

Broadband Stimulus, Broadband's Impact, National Broadband Plan June 23rd, 2010

, Reporter-Researcher, BroadbandBreakfast.com

WASHINGTON, June 23, 2010 – Blair Levin, former executive director of the Omnibus Broadband Initiative at the Federal Communications Commission, spoke about some of the issues that were included and not included in the writing of the National Broadband Plan. He picked out three key initiatives in the National Broadband Plan: spectrum appropriation, the unbundling of cable systems, and universal service.

Levin predicted that there will be a spectrum crunch in the United States by the middle of this decade. The allocation of spectrum can take years to implement, and the current idea of “you keep what you own” makes it difficult to free up spectrum. Additionally, technologies like the iPad, smartphones, and other mobile broadband applications are increasing the amount of spectrum users.

He proposed that the FCC should regulate spectrum and provide incentives to spectrum holders who are not using their spectrum at maximized efficiency and capacity. He said that the under-utilization of spectrum is restricting spectrum for other uses, and encourages an incentive auction of spectrum, because “Under current law, nobody wins. The American people lose out.”

Blair Levin addresses Roadmap for Broadband Adoption conference

Levin addressed the unbundling requirements for internet providers, saying that due to the uncertainty of unbundling; providers will not be able to produce enough capital to support a business. Instead, he believes that the best thing for jobs and economic growth would be for the broadband providers to upgrade their current systems. In doing so, he believes a more competitive market will be created.

When writing the National Broadband Plan, Levin said that universal service was a controversial issue at times. In response to criticism that speed goals for rural areas were insufficient, Levin said that “It is not legitimate is to pretend that there are no cost to increasing speed.” Those who wish to increase speeds in more remote areas need to be upfront about the costs and means to do so. He also said that transparency in plans to create universal service is essential, and that vagueness only creates problems.

He said while the Plan was sometimes criticized as a “wish list” from the FCC, he said “There is no doubt that the goals we described will eventually be reached.” He said they have created a factual and analytic framework for problem-solving and further research. Levin is confident in the cost-benefit analysis of the Plan’s initiatives.

Levin compared the advent and expansion of broadband service to that of electricity. It took a long time for industries and American household to embrace electricity. Unlike electricity adoption, he wants broadband opportunities to quickly enhance efficiency in the fields of education and healthcare, saying that “The biggest challenge is in how we as a country think about the opportunity.” Instead of optimizing outdated technologies, he wants the country to be a global leader in utilizing broadband under the guidance of the National Broadband Plan.

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