Friday, March 19, 2010

"New Media" and Old Influence: Genachowski's First Broadband Plan Interview Hosted on YouTube 03/19/2010 San Francisco - Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), did his first interview after release of the National Broadband Plan on Tuesday, March 16, on YouTube. YouTube is, obviously, one of the primary online platforms owned by Google, Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG), which often has business before....wait for it...the Federal Communications Commission.

The Chairman's appearance on a Google channel just after release of one of the most important policy documents in modern American telecom history was an effective way for the Commission to reach its core constituency of broadband end users.

We get that.  We also think the FCC-YouTube gig was primarily a government relations coup by Richard Whitt, head of Google’s Washington policy shop.  Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to quickly gain an understanding of the way Washington works.

Google's Role in U.S. Telecom Policy: Setting a New Competitive Agenda
Are we being too harsh here?

Good policy which advances the public interest comes out of an adversarial process of contending interests.   In most cases we applaud Google's increasingly significant role in setting the tech / telecom policy agenda.

We're throwing a flag on the field on this one (badly mangling metaphors here), not because we don't like the guys with their thumbs on the public policy scale, but because we think the system works best when no one's thumb is on the scale.  If we're throwing a flag on the field, imagine how upset one who doesn't really like this FCC, this National Broadband Plan, or Google's policy's initiatives might be.  Imagine their payback when, inevitably, the other team is back in power.

The Obama Administration's focused attention on broadband infrastructure and on the nation's regions and populations underserved with broadband is long overdue.  For the 8 years previous to the swearing in of President Obama, most of the "public policy" of the FCC was dictated not by the public good, but by the most powerful and anti-competitive incumbents in the broadcasting and telecom sectors.

The answer of the Bush Administration to the continued slide in our global broadband rankings: 'Let the big telcos get to that when they want to.'  The answer of the analysts and think tanks financed by the big telcos was (and remains):  'Those rankings, especially of the OECD, are all flawed.  We don't pay attention to them, and neither should you.'

Over the past decade, Google has increasingly acted in the national telecom policy role formerly played by large end user groups, competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs), and long distance carriers like AT&T (NYSE: T), acquired by SBC in 2005, and MCI acquired by Verizon (NYSE: VZ) also in 2005 prior to reconsolidation of the sector.  Google, because it is one of the largest single "users" of the Internet (Yes, we know that is an entire debate in itself.), correctly sees its business as being directly tied to abundant, accessible, and reasonably priced broadband services.    

In the 1980s through late 1990s, the CLECs and competitive (non-Bell) long distance providers advocated an agenda defined by network interconnection and network element unbundling.  Successfully enshrined as national policy in the Telecom Act of 1996, that agenda launched America’s leadership of the Internet-enabled global economy.   Even the most severe critics of that agenda, and of the boom-to-bust cycle of that era, dare not argue that the Bell Operating Companies (BOCs) themselves could have jump started such a transformational change in the U.S. economy.

The agenda being advocated by Google today is analogous to, yet clearly different from, that of the CLECs and end users in the era before the Act.  An agenda inclusive of ubiquitous high capacity broadband, open access networks, and net neutrality is no less important to our nation's global competitiveness than were the former goals of to that of the previous era. 

Google’s economic interest in broadband is shared by application developers, business end users, residential consumers, network equipment makers, smaller and more rural service providers, and underserved populations across the nation.  Chairman Genachowski is not wrong in saying the broadband agenda – one argued for by Google and by the public interest think tanks it supports – are indeed fundamental to U.S. prosperity. 

So, What’s the Problem?
After 3 decades in the world of policy and politics as they relate to the American telecom sector, we couldn’t be more thrilled to have a national administration that is putting real skin in the game of the important national broadband / competitive telecom agenda.

We just don't like being told, because this is all "New Media" and all the rulemakings are fully "transparent," that the use by the FCC of a communications outlet owned by a large company it oversees is without risk to good policy making. 

We don't like it when power and influence is too obviously in play.  "Good" government relations doesn't always equate to good government.  


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