Cable Show 2012: NCTA President Praises FCC's Broadband Campaign

Michael Powell NCTA - H 2012
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Michael Powell NCTA - H 2012

Michael Powell lobs softball questions at Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genochowski.

Boston – The former chairman of the Federal Communications Commissions interviewed the current chairman as part of the opening session at the NCTA convention on Tuesday but there was more agreement than sparks.

Former chairman Michael Powell, now President of the NCTA, lobbed a series of softball questions at the current chairman, Julius Genochowski, praising him for guiding the FCC to focus the issue of spectrum usage on modern technology and for supporting the national rollout of broadband, so it now reaches about 93 percent of U.S. homes – although only about 67 percent actually use broadband so far.

“About a third of people in the U.S. don’t have broadband and don’t subscribe,” he added, saying that must increase because they need these digital skills to get jobs, communicate and help drive the 21st century economy.

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Powell praised the FCC for helping push a program that encourages cable companies to offer low cost broadband to low-income families.

“There are too many Americans who lack basic digital skills,” said Genochowski, citing a study that he said came out Monday which shows many companies can’t fill jobs because of a lack of people with these kinds of skills. “You can’t look for a job if you are not online. It’s a major issue. If we don’t tackle this, we will fall behind as a country.”

Genochowski said he supports cable’s efforts to offer flexible pricing, despite consumer complaints that they like the old system of one price for all you use.

“There was a point of view that said a couple years ago that there’s only one permissible pricing model for broadband,” said Genochowski. “I didn’t agree and the commission didn’t agree. We said usage-based pricing could be a healthy part of the system…. It can increase fairness. It can an result in lower prices for people…So experimenting is perfectly fair.”

Powell also complimented Genochowski for reforming the universal service system, so that instead of the focus on telephone for all, it now is also about broadband for all.

“We are moving from 20th century communications to 21st century communications and recognizing the fiscal constraints,” said Genochowski. “This had gotten creaky over the years, inefficient, wasteful.”

On what even Powell said was the hot question in the halls of the cable show -- what to do on the subject of retransmission consent at a time broadcasters are increasingly aggressive about demanding payments for their content when it is re-used on cable TV -- Genochowski wouldn’t take a position. He said the FCC is looking into it and that the current law, written in the 1900s, may be out of date, but they are not ready to make any big changes.

Powell suggested in 2012 after the election may be the time to re-write the communications law, but Genochowski did not take the bait. What Powell and Genochowski agreed on was that the development of unlicensed spectrum use through WiFi networks is a positive in terms of innovation and will continue to be something cable and others can do without the FCC or anyone else that will lead to even more important developments.

Overall, Genochowski came to praise cable, not to challenge it. “There is an enormous opportunity for us to lead the world in innovation in a new category that will be important for years,” said Genochowski, who added that is also will be a “a big challenge.”