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Rules Should Foster Broadband Market, Chairman Contends

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Widening Digital Reach Is FCC Chief's Goal
December 22, 2003

By Bob Keefe

SAN DIEGO - Between meetings on his recent trip to visit with wireless Internet researchers and users, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell took time to talk about technology, regulation and his vision of the future. Here are excerpts, edited for clarity:

Question: So what in technology excites you these days?

Answer: The two areas that just really excite me right now are "wireless everything" . . . and voice over IP. The breakthroughs going on in wireless science are just fascinating, and hold great promise. And I think voice over IP is really exciting . . . because it's probably the first absolutely compelling application over an Internet network.

Q: You seem to have a lot of enthusiasm for new technology. How do you balance that with making sure companies don't rip off consumers?

A: You're posing the question like most people think about it - how these two things should be separated. But they shouldn't be separated. Public policy should always be about . . . bringing consumers all the technology of tomorrow that's going to bring real value to their lives.

Q: You've been criticized for your stance on easing regulations on some big industries, like media. Yet at the same time you've been involved in some of the biggest regulatory changes in recent history - number portability, the do-not-call (telemarketing) rules. How do you explain that dichotomy?

A: I am agnostic about companies. I don't want them to be my friends; I don't work for a big company or small company; I don't work for one segment of the industry or another. I am a public policy official and my only loyalty is to the American citizens.

Q: So do you feel the market is competitive in the industries you regulate?

A: No, not yet. We never said it is. The question is how do you work on it. You can say, "Oh it's not competitive, so let's spend all of our regulatory energy focused on the big fat incumbents and on controlling them." Or you can say, "Let's change the world. Let's bring the competition to the market."

The only difference between me and others who probably are (my) critics is that we believe in empowering new competitive alternatives that are long-term and viable and achievable, and they think competition is something you only do by forcing the incumbent to give things away to people.

Q: But can't regulation help smaller companies compete with big guys?

A: Regulation is usually something that benefits the big companies. Do you think Vonage, the voice-over-IP company with 20 employees, can match Verizon in a regulatory battle? . . . Usually a heavy regulatory regime benefits the incumbent because they have all the resources they need to play the game better.

Q: Where does your philosophy on regulation - or perhaps, competition - come from?

A: It stems from my attempt to study and understand technology and how powerful it is. When I go back and write policies, they're policies I think reflect the core truth of where the technology is going to make the world go - no matter what any regulator or policy-maker might prefer.

Q: So if that's the case, what as the nation's chief communications industry regulator is your goal?

A: My goal is basically to try to get this entire nation and every last American off analog infrastructures and into digital broadband infrastructures that will provide the innovation potential to bring them the next generation of lifestyle-changing services.

The current network is brilliant, it's a great marvel - and it's also completely mature. Our future, our economy, our education, our lifestyles are dependent on getting on Internet-like platforms that have more potential for innovation.

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  • Rocky Mountain News, 12/22/03

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