Cable Show: Genachowski insists there’ll be no FCC meddling with cable

Thu, 05/13/2010 - 10:00am
Brian Santo

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski tried to erode the opposition to his “third way” plan in front of a skeptical audience at the Cable Show here today, insisting that his proposal explicitly would not give the FCC power to control prices or demand line-sharing.

And while he defended his plan, he said he was also open to self-regulation by the communications industry, provided there was an “FCC backstop” – the authority to step in if self-regulation failed to work.

Genachowski started the session by giving the industry some strokes: the U.S. is in the position it’s in today because of innovation in the cable industry.

The bad news, he said, is that multiple studies show the U.S. is lagging in terms of broadband. One study in particular, he said, establishes a link between broadband and global competitiveness, and the U.S. is 40th out of 40 on that list.

The good news, he said, is that cable infrastructure, and to some extent telco infrastructure, is so well developed it can be considered a competitive advantage.

The key is to drive greater broadband adoption. “So getting people to adopt broadband is as near win-win for the government and the industry as I’ve ever seen,” Genachowski said.

The problem is that the recent court case Comcast brought against the FCC and decided in favor of Comcast damaged the legal foundation supporting everything the FCC would like to do to promote broadband adoption, which Genachowski said the FCC has been articulating clearly all along.

The Comcast decision, he said, doesn’t change the FCC’s aims or policy goals at all. The question, he said, “is how do we get back to a solid legal foundation to do what we want to do – and not more. We reject both extremes. One extreme is to do nothing. The other is to implement all of Title II” – the provisions in telecommunications law that give the FCC very broad and intrusive control over telephony.

He said that the “third way” approach is to pare down Title II to only those provisions that allow the FCC to encourage broadband adoption. “Our staff has developed a narrow approach with barriers against regulatory creep, and regulatory over-reaching, and gets us to a legal foundation similar to where we were before the Comcast decision.”

So rate regulation and line sharing are off the table, NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow pressed him.

“They’re off the table,” Genachowski said.

Pressed by McSlarrow about the possibility of self regulation, Genachowski said he is open to processes that involve engineers and others solving problems, “as long as there’s an FCC backstop.”

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