Bush Said to Green Light FCC
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Calling for an "aggressive expansion of broadband," President George W. Bush told IT CEOs last week at the White House's 21st Century High Tech Forum to look to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for his administration's broadband policy. In his comments to dozens of industry heads, the president predicted, "A lot of action is going to come through the FCC. I know that, you know that."
In his first major remarks to the tech community since the events of Sept. 11, Bush, who has remained neutral in the various broadband proposals currently beginning debated in Congress, said he was confident the FCC is moving in the direct correction in its recent efforts to re-examine, and possibly deregulate, some government restrictions on broadband deployment.
"I'm confident that the chairman and the board is focusing on policies that will bring high-speed Internet service, will create competition, will keep the consumers in mind, but to understand the kind of the economic vitality that will occur when broadband is more fully accessible," Bush said.
In case anyone in the crowd that included AOL Time Warner's Steve Case, Hewlett-Packard's Carly Fiorina and John Chen of Sybase missed his point, two former members of Bush's transition team for the FCC emphasized it again later in the day.
"President Bush left no doubt that FCC Chairman Michael Powell has his full support to move ahead on broadband deregulation," said Jeffery A. Eisenach, who is now president of the digital think tank, the Progress & Freedom Foundation (PPF). "Just as the Administration lent its support to the FCC's decision to lift ownership caps on wireless spectrum, the President has now personally given the green light to move forward on broadband."
Added Randolph J. May, who serves as the PPF's director of communications policy studies, "The FCC is an independent agency, and it will of course have to make its decisions on the basis of the facts and the law, but it still has a great deal of discretion under the 1996 Telecommunications Act. President Bush made clear his view that the Commission's apparent intention of using that discretion in a deregulatory way has his full support."
One of the more controversial issues currently being examined by the FCC would be to trim regulations through long-disputed interpretations of the Telecom Act to allow the regional Bell operating companies to enter the broadband market. Currently, the Bells must make their DSL lines available to their competitors under the provisions of the 1996 Telecom Act. Cable companies, however, are not required to share their broadband lines.
The Bells claim the regulations put them at a competitive disadvantage with cable and are slowing the deployment of broadband over telephone lines. Consumer groups, which weren't invited to the tech forum, contend deregulation will allow the Bells to gain control of a large share of the nation's broadband market and reduce broadband provider choices for Americans.
"Many of us have attributed the slow pace of activity at the FCC to concerns that it might face political opposition to any deregulatory steps it takes," Eisenach said. "Any basis for such concerns, at least as far as the White House is concerned, has now been erased."
FCC Chairman Powell has long been a proponent of competing broadband technologies, such as telephone, cable, satellite and wireless, not inter-broadband competition. It's a policy he's been consistent with, even though it has spelled the doom for many broadband ISPs and independent telephone companies, called competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs).
Bush's broadband comments were part of a broader agenda he presented to the executives before they broke into sessions with administration officials. Bush said the budget's $58 billion for technology was a record amount, praised the IT industry's role in homeland defense and promised to continue pushing Congress to make the research and development credit permanent.