FCC chair focuses on broadband, innovation

CHICAGO ' Despite rapidly growing investments in and deployment of broadband networks, rural areas remain a key challenge to making advanced data and video services universally available, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin said Tuesday at the NXTcomm telecom trade show.

Video rather than voice is the baseline capability that needs to be made available to all households, and government policy should focus on facilitating those services rather than subsidizing competition for traditional telephone.

'We may not be able to continue to facilitate the flow of universal service money to multiple providers in those areas' where it might not be economically feasible for even one company to provide voice service, Martin said, speaking to an opening-morning audience by video link.

The telecom industry has found an ally in Martin since he assumed the chair of the FCC. His focus has been on fostering investment and competition in broadband networks. Industry spokesmen cited a 40 percent expansion and a $70 billion investment in broadband networks during his tenure.

'I think the policy has been a success,' Martin said. 'There is more the FCC can do. I think it is critical to move forward on auctions to make sure the spectrum is available for broadband' services such as mobile video.

Congress has set a Jan. 1, 2008, deadline for spectrum auctions to begin on the 700 MHz band, with use of the auctioned bands to begin within a year.

With distinctions blurring between different types of content, Martin said that the ability for network carriers to compete in the video market is necessary to ensure continued investment in advanced networks.

'The ability to provide video service may be a key element in upgrading networks,' Martin said. 'It is critical that we facilitate that investment' by removing traditional state and local franchise barriers to this market.

Martin voiced support for a baseline level of net neutrality protections, which would allow equal access to carrier networks by all types of service providers. Users should have access to all types of service by all types of devices, but networking companies need to be able to recoup the cost of upgrading networks by providing tiered service rates, he said. He also voiced support for basic public safety interests over business competition in the form of Enhanced 911 service. Generally, all telecom voice service providers, whether traditional switched wireline services, cellular or voice over IP, are required to provide accurate routing of 911 calls and provide information about caller location to public safety answering points that receive the calls.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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