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FCC's Powell Joins Blogger Roll

Last week, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael Powell launched a blog to invite comments from the tech community. And did he ever get them.

A little more than 23,000 people visited Powell's column, published by AlwaysOn, and hundreds fired off replies to his call to hear directly from the tech community in order to "get beyond the traditional inside the Beltway Washington world where lobbyists filter the techies."

Powell's techies had plenty to say about the FCC's regulatory vision, spectrum allocation, telecom regulation, censorship, media ownership, Internet telephony (VoIP), broadband over power lines (BPL) and Powell himself.

"Let me just say again that this very blog is a revolutionary one. I strongly believe that the Internet is the perfect forum to avoid the lobbyists, and that no matter what decisions you make as chairman, you've already made the best one possible," Jonathan Ivy wrote.

"I am frankly disappointed by the FCC and your leadership. You have acted like a typical BIG-BUSINESS mentality politician. You were born with a proverbial 'silver-spoon' and you have a lot of charisma," wrote D. Nathan. "However, your implementation of the Telecom Act of 1996 was a miserable failure."

Landcruiser weighed in with: "Deregulation allowed them [telcos] to price out their competitors by using their monopoly power over the phone lines. What will be different in the era of VoIP?"

Another reader urged Powell not to become a "hoodwinked bumpkin" on the BPL issue, contending that "many of us here [Silicon Valley] laugh at BPL. Please save yourself from this one before the BPL proponents talk your staff further into disgrace."

A number of those who replied to Powell simply questioned the regulatory vision of the FCC.

"The FCC keeps stating their desire to promote competition, especially facilities-based competition" wrote Cluge. "Perhaps the FCC should start ACTING like it wants competition."

By Sunday, Powell was ready with his responses, taking the opportunity to describe the FCC's position.

"We do have a vision. I call it digital migration," Powell wrote. "The biggest problem for the last 100 years has been the government embracing monopoly and the fact that there was basically one wire to bring communication service to all consumers, regardless of where they lived. A network was optimized for one application -- copper wire for voice by telcos, coaxial for multichannel video by cable companies and so on."

Powell said the FCC was solving the "one-wire dynamic" by "driving multiple broadband platforms," such as DSL, cable modem, BPL, Wi-Fi , satellite broadband and ultra wideband technology .

"More importantly, by following the Internet paradigm and thinking of services as applications that can be divorced from any one platform, we can see a second order of competition developing in the application layer," Powell wrote. "VoIP is a strong example! Less regulation in this service layer will foster innovation and competition."

Powell also defended his long opposition to forcing incumbent telephone companies to share their lines at deeply discounted rates to competitors. Last year, Powell was on the short end of a 3-2 FCC vote to maintain the discount pricing regime, but earlier this year, the courts rejected the decision.

"I do not believe all the high ambitions for competition should rest on basically reselling the incumbents' services. Consumers get a choice, but a flat one," he wrote. "There is not much product differentiation possible (just selling the same thing). Not much price competition possible (stuck with price inputs and a state-regulated retail market). Not much network redundancy at a time of serious risk to our nation."

Powell said the FCC will write new rules in the next six months to "promote small competitors using the incumbent's network to provide necessary facilities. Facilities-based competition is something I strongly support."



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