Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Dissenting Statement of FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is directed by five Commissioners appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate for 5-year terms, except when filling an unexpired term. The President designates one of the Commissioners to serve as Chairperson. Only three Commissioners may be members of the same political party and all are appointed by the President. None of them can have a financial interest in any Commission-related business.1 Current Commissioners are:

Commissioners make decisions and have to have thick skin - any time a decision is made there is going to be positive and negative feedback. Often the Commissioners stick together and defend each other but sometimes there are dissenting statements made when there is strong disagreement. In response to the June 12, 2008 FCC Fifth Section 706 Report I wrote about a couple of days ago that examines the availability of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans, Commissioner Michael J. Copps let lose with a whopper of a dissenting statement - here it is as posted on the FCC website:

It’s no secret to most people here that I have not been leading the cheers for previous editions of our Section 706 reports. Based on a paucity of data –mostly primitive and generally-unhelpful –these reports claim progress that simply did not reflect reality. The data lacked a plausible definition of broadband, employed stunningly meaningless zip code measurements concerning its geographic distribution, ignored the prices people paid for broadband completely, and for years failed to look at what other countries were doing to get broadband deployed to their people. As I noted the last time we issued a section 706 Report, way back in September 2004:

“America’s competitors around the world are implementing comprehensive broadband plans. Countries like Japan, Korea, and Canada have left us far behind. This is unacceptable. Broadband is our central infrastructure challenge. High-capacity networks are to the Twenty-first century what roads, canals and railroads were to the Nineteenth and highways and basic telecommunications were to the Twentieth. Our economy and our future will be driven by how quickly and completely we deploy broadband.

That is why Congress charged the FCC with promoting broadband deployment for all Americans—whether they live in rural areas, inner cities or tribal lands; whether they are affluent or of limited income; whether they live with or without disabilities. Recently, we heard an announcement from the very top of our government that our goal is universal broadband access by 2007. But we are not making acceptable progress toward that goal. Yes, there are good stories in these glossy pages. Schools and libraries enjoy broadband access like never before. New technologies offer new promise. Strides are being made in some rural communities. Companies are working hard.

Still, one glaring fact stands out: the United States is ranked eleventh in the world in broadband penetration! [Note: we’ve fallen to 15th in the interim.] This Report somehow finds that this is acceptable, and that our efforts are resulting in timely deployment.”

I could continue with the rest of my 2004 statement and it would sound as eerily applicable today as these first few paragraphs do. We can write reports that conclude that Americans are receiving broadband in a reasonable and timely fashion. But the facts are always there, glaring and staring us in the face, showing us where we really stand.

I've always been a proponent of free markets and smaller government but, in this case I have to agree with Copp, we're just fooling ourselves. I don't believe we are going to fix this critical problem without strong national policy.

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