FCC Chairman’s “broadband engine” speech raises big questions

February 16, 2010

FCC Chairman Genachowski’s speech to NARUC: “Broadband: Our Enduring Engine for Prosperity and Opportunity” raises some big open questions.

The biggest open question is whether Chairman Genachowski believes the titular “broadband engine” of his speech should remain a private sector “engine” that is private property and fueled by profit and investment returns, or whether the “broadband engine” should somehow become quasi public property, heavily regulated like a public utility, and more government funded and controlled.

 Another big open question arises out of Chairman Genchowski’s adoption of electricity as his new guiding metaphor in place of interstate highways.

  • “Some compare high-speed Internet to building the interstate highway system in the 1950s. It’s a tempting comparison, but imperfect.
  •  In terms of transformative power, broadband is more akin to the advent of electricity. Both broadband and electricity are what some call “general purpose technologies” — technologies that are a means to a great many ends, enabling innovations in a wide array of human endeavors.The open question here is electricity transmission is regulated as a public utility. Is the FCC Chairman’s new metaphor intended to extend to how broadband should be regulated? 
  • Electricity reshaped the world — extending day into night, kicking the Industrial Revolution into overdrive, and enabling the invention of a countless number of devices and equipment that today we can’t imagine being without.
  • Now in the 21st century, it is high-speed Internet that is reshaping our economy and our lives more profoundly than any technology since electricity, and with at least as much potential for advancing prosperity and opportunity, creating jobs, and improving our lives.”

The irony with the Chairman adopting this new electricity omni-metaphor to explain his policy approach/plan is that the current electrical grid is a dumb network that the Administration and the FCC want to make a “smart grid” via broadband technology, while the current smart broadband network would be forced to become dumb if the FCC’s proposed open Internet regulations become formal regulations.

Why is it a good thing for an electrical grid/network to be smart, but its not a good thing for a broadband information services network to be smart?

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