CNET Conversations: A CNET Conversation with Julius Genachowski
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CNET Conversations: A CNET Conversation with Julius Genachowski

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The FCC Chairman talks with Molly Wood about his agency's plan to get everyone faster Internet.

[ Music ] ^M00:00:08 >> Molly Wood: Hi. I'm Molly Wood, and welcome to CNET Conversations. We're very excited to be here in Washington, D.C., and I'm joined by the FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski, who just presented the National Broadband Plan for improving America's broadband infrastructure, and that's what we're here to talk about today. Thank you so much. >> Julius Genachowski: Great. Welcome to the FCC. >> Molly Wood: Thank you. I'm excited to be here. I've had a wonderful Washington trip [laughter] so far. I'm sure that most people will know by the time they see this, but can you sort of broadly outline the goals of the National Broadband Plan, or the, the omnibus broadband initiative. [laughter] >> Julius Genachowski: Sure. You know, as, as we tackle our economy, as we rebuild our economy coming out of this terrible period that we've been in and that we're still in, it's essential that we tackle the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century infrastructure. And the core idea underlying the Broadband Plan is that our broadband infrastructure, our high-speed Internet infrastructure can be our engine for economic growth, job creation, innovation in the 21st century that we have to tackle that seriously. Now, the reason to be concerned is that, one, the U.S. is lagging globally. Other countries are ahead of us on key metrics. Two, within the U.S., different communities are lagging, and three, the costs of not being on this infrastructure, the cost of digital exclusion are getting higher and higher, whether you're someone looking for a job, whether you're a student, whether you're someone who's in health care information, the costs of not being part of our information, economy, and society are just getting higher. >> Molly Wood: And so I know you presented a pretty broad plan, obviously, to address the speed and infrastructure and, you know, health and energy policy, all that kind of thing. What happens next? It has to be approved by Congress, correct? >> Julius Genachowski: Well, there are different pieces of it. It's a, it's a broad plan, as you say. It has, it tackles broadband deployment issues, the challenge that in some parts of the country you can't get broadband even if you don't want it. Millions and millions of Americans, broadband just doesn't reach. It tackles what we call the adoption issue. Right now, 65 percent of Americans have adopted broadband, 35 percent haven't. That's not good enough. If we were talking about those numbers for our electric grid or our telephone service, we'd say wow, we can't have a functioning economy with statistics like that. And the third, as I mentioned, is the cost of digital exclusion are getting higher. So the recommendations go to, to deployment, adoption, and then, sorry, if I could add one other thing. Congress said in addition to looking at those goals, look at the ways in which broadband can advance national objectives like education, energy, health care, public safety, and make sure we have a plan to harness broadband for those goals. So that's what we've put together. A terrific process with just a brilliant group of people who work very, very hard on it, and a collection of recommendations, a number of which go to the FCC itself because we have jurisdiction over our communications infrastructure, and a lot of the work we can now move on, act on at the FCC with open processes like the ones we've done. Some of the recommendations go to Congress because they require Congressional action. Some recommendations are for other parts of government, and they're now being considered by other parts of government to see how they can take steps to advance our broadband goals. >> Molly Wood: Now, one of the goals in the plan is collecting pricing data and benchmarking speeds from different ISP's in order to sort of see what the competitive environment is like. How soon can you start doing some of that? I think that's something that, particularly my audience really wants to [crosstalk]. >> Julius Genachowski: Well, the first thing I'll tell you is we've, we've started. So one of the things we launched last week was an application on the Internet and also on, on smartphones that allows users to measure the speeds where they are, and it feeds into the data collection efforts that, that we're working on, ultimately, to be mapped. So if you go to broadband.gov, you can download that application, test your, your home wire line. You can test your mobile line. You can also find places to report dead zones for mobile. This isn't, obviously, the entirety of our data collection efforts. We have a whole series of plans in place to make sure that the FCC has the data it needs on broadband deployment on speeds, on pricing so that we can make sure the market is working and that we can take all the steps we need to take, to take to promote vibrant, robust competition. >> Molly Wood: So it's on that competition point actually. That was probably the number one concern that, that my users have is that they just don't have the competition in their area. How, how can you, you know, and how can government in general ensure competition in that space? >> Julius Genachowski: Well, one thing we can do is make sure that consumers have the information they need to make the market work. And so an important initiative of the plan is a consumer-transparency initiative where consumers will have access to much better information about the speeds that they're getting, the nature of the services that they're getting. Right now, we hear endless reports about consumer confusion over broadband, and one of the recommendations is make sure that at a minimum, consumers have the information they need to make the market work. Some of it is quite complex, but that's our job. To roll up our sleeves and make sure that any entity that wants to invest, wants to compete has a fair chance to compete in the marketplace. And then the third major element is, you know, where you started, which is data. The agency that, that we all took over here a few months ago was Datastar. It didn't have the information it needed to do the work that over time this agency must do, and that's why the data initiative is so important both making sure that we have the data that we need here to do our work and also that we're making public the public's data so that lots of, you know, data foot soldiers around the country can have access to machine-readable, searchable information and, and, and, and be part of our processes as we tackle these issues. >> Molly Wood: So the idea, literally, around data collection is that if consumers can find out in hard numbers that, for example, they're not getting the broadband speed that they're paying for that they'll put competitive pressure on their providers? >> Julius Genachowski: That's a key part of it. It's, it's two things. One is if you've signed up for service, and the advertised speed is one number, but you're actually getting some lower number, you ought to know that, and you ought to be able to, to, to complain about that. The other thing that we're aiming toward is giving consumers more visibility and transparency about other speeds in different parts of the country. And so if your part of the country, you're being offered, you know, one speed, and then you can look and say, hey, you know, other places have larger speeds, you're in a stronger position to make noise as a consumer about what you really want and to encourage a competitive response to that. Obviously, all of these pieces have to work together, but empowering consumers has to be an important part of our competition strategy. >> Molly Wood: So the plan right now doesn't include, you know, unbundling or sort of some open access provisions. The idea that, that the people who own the lines aren't necessarily the same people that provide the service. Is the idea, then, that even if you can't increase the number of companies offering service in a specific area that with this information, people should be able to say, well, you know, it's, it's almost the iPhone example, right, where there was a lot of pressure on AT&T because the iPhone wasn't working for people? Is, is that kind of the theory? >> Julius Genachowski: Yeah. It's, yes. You know, the, the, empowering consumers to make the market work, very, very important. Making sure that we lower barriers to new entrants, to existing competitors and, and giving them a greater fair chance to compete in the market, very, very important. >> Molly Wood: And how can we do that? >> Julius Genachowski: Well, there are a whole series of ways. You know, there's, some of it involves, one of the reasons that it's challenging for some competitors to get going in markets is the cost of actually building out a, a network. Whether it's access to rights of way, towers if you're a mobile company, are very high. There are parts of the infrastructure, we've heard complaints that some of the different parts of the infrastructure that a competitive company needs to access in order to be able to provide a competitive service that along the way, prices are too high, and competition is too low, and those are things that the plan says we should look at very seriously, and we will. We think there are opportunities around unleashing spectrum, not only mobile broadband, which we talk about a lot, but also fixed wireless and to encourage that as a potential competitor. There's not going to be a silver bullet. We need to push to forward on multiple strategies. While we're doing it, we need to make sure that overall, private investment in this ecosystem continues. You know, in this country, at the end of the day, the networks that we all use, wired and wireless, for our broadband are going to be built by private companies, and we need to make that they're incentivized to build out, but we also need to make sure that there's vibrant, robust, healthy, fair competition. >> Molly Wood: When you talk about private industries, actually, there's, obviously, a lot of talk about Google and their big gigabit experiment. Is Google going to there before the government does, do you think? >> Julius Genachowski: Well, the government's role is to create a climate where all the companies in the ecosystem are pushing the envelope on speeds, on deployment, on adoption. That's, that's how we're going to, that's how we've succeeded in the past. That's how we're going to succeed in the future. So from our perspective, to see companies make announcements about serious efforts to speed up our infrastructure, to bring more competition, that's very healthy. You mention one company. Cisco recently had an announcement about a router than can also help speed things up significantly on the Internet. I hope we see more and more announcements by our companies to do this, and this is, by the way, is one of the core goals of the plan. We, we've been the U.S., the leader in innovation in the world. We were the leader in the 20th century. We need to be the world's leader in innovation in the 21st century. We're not going to be that if we stand still because other countries aren't standing still. And we're going to be risk of our global leadership in an invasion if our broadband infrastructure isn't world class. If innovators and entrepreneurs from around the world could just as easily launch, develop in other markets, they might. We need to make sure that we have the infrastructure here and the market here so that the flow of intellectual capital is here, that we're creating the most innovative products here, launching them here, building and creating the jobs here, and then exporting them from here to other parts of the world. And that's one of the reasons that this broadband plan is so essential to the economic health of our country. >> Molly Wood: So, the FCC has shown a commitment to net neutrality, network neutrality in the past. That's not in the plan. Do you feel like that's an essential component of that innovation is, is keeping that network neutral and available to any device, any - >> Julius Genachowski: Absolutely. You know, making sure that we preserve the freedom and openness of the Internet is going to be essential to making sure that we have a world-leading, innovative, competitive Internet. It's worked for us for the last 20 years. Any entrepreneur, any innovator, any speaker can get on the Internet and know that they can reach an audience, and let the audience, let the market decide, let Internet users decide what technology wins or loses, what product or service wins or loses. This is just essential. You know, we don't want to see a bulkinized [phonetic], closed-off Internet here. That'll be a negative for investment, a negative for competition, and a negative for, for keeping the U.S. the world leader in this infrastructure. So making sure that the Internet remains open and free is, is vital. >> Molly Wood: There was also some heartening language in the plan about copyright protections, that it must not stifle innovation over burden lawful uses of copyrighted works or compromise consumers' privacy rights, but almost at loggerheads, it seems, we have the ACTA agreement. What is your position on the ACTA treaty, and do you feel like that could potentially damage, you know, this, this commitment to the fair use [laughs]? >> Julius Genachowski: Well, let me, let me, let me tell you how I look at the copyright issues on the Internet. I, I believe very, very strongly that we need an open Internet for innovators and entrepreneurs. I also think we need an Internet that's a safe place for businesses to do business. And if you are a speaker, a content creator, you ought to be able to make a business doing that on the Internet, and unlawful, you know, infringement of copyright can disincentivize [phonetic] the kind of activity that we need to see. So we need an Internet that's both open and that's safe and trusted. Just like, you know, if we were talking about town squares. We need town squares that are open for free speech and vibrant discussion and for people to open up stores and everything else. We also need the businesses to know and the speakers to know that, hey, this is a safe place to, to do business. A place, a safe place to speak, and we all have to work together to get there, and, and I think it's possible. I think that, increasingly, everyone who's looked at this is saying, you know what. An Internet that is open for legal content and that develops reasonable, fair ways to make sure that copyright can be enforced, not over inclusive, not that, you know, that, that punishes lawful conduct or that, you know, goes after kids, but, but these goals of, of a free and open Internet and one that's safe for businesses to do business. We can accomplish them both, and we can do it in a way that keeps the U.S. the world leader. >> Molly Wood: So one of the controversial parts of the plan seems to come down to spectrum. There, there's been some push back from the broadcast industry about this idea of giving up some spectrum for future use, and there's kind of a, you know, our users phrased it almost as a rumor on the Internet that if, if you are able to reclaim spectrum for use in terms of providing broadband Internet access that that could affect over-the-air broadcast television. >> Julius Genachowski: Well, the, the first point is that mobile broadband has extraordinary opportunity for our country. For our economy, for individuals. We all know this now. It's just, when you think about it, you know, the smartphones didn't really exist 18, 20 months ago, and now they're almost knocking over our mobile networks because the capacity, the demands are so high. So a smartphone uses about 30 times as much capacity as an old cell phone. An air card. If you take your laptop and put an air card in and connect to the Internet that way, that uses 150 times. You know, major, you know, our record shows that projections for mobile broadband capacity, the demands on our mobile broadband networks over the next few years are going to increase forty fold, thirty fold, but the amount of spectrum coming online is much, much less. So this is just a huge potential looming crisis that if we wait until it's too late, it'll be terrible for our, for our mobile broadband infrastructure, terrible for our economy, terrible for all of us who want to use mobile devices, whether they're phones or laptops to connect to the Internet, and we have to start tackling it now. The challenge is there are no easy pickings on the spectrum chart, and there's no spectrum that's, you know, sitting around, you know, completely unused, and we have to look at creative ways to free up spectrum for mobile broadband. And there are a number of different ideas along these lines in the broadband plan, but, but certainly one of the big ideas is to develop a plan that would create a mechanism for broadcasters who want to participate in what the plan calls an incentive auction to do it. So, you know, if I could pause for a minute on broadcasting. If broadcasters broadcast over 6 megahertz channels, and in the digital world that equates to almost 20 megabits a second, a little bit under that. And that equates to not one stream of video programming, but as many as five or six. And one of the ideas is, wait, you know, in some markets, especially larger markets where we have most of the mobile broadband congestion problems, can't we find a way for broadcasters to share spectrum. To continue to transmit free over the air to their viewers, to do what they're doing and what they plan to do, but by sharing on a single transmission facility, cut their operating costs in half, or three share. Copyright, cut their operating costs even more. In doing that, they would be able to continue to offer service, free service for their viewers, we'd get spectrum back that can be put to use for licensed and unlicensed broadband. We would auction off a significant part of that. That would raise billions of dollars for the Treasury, and you know, we sure know how much we need that now. >> Molly Wood: Right. >> Julius Genachowski: So we put out through this plan some ideas on how to do long-term, medium- and long-term spectrum planning for the country that really should be a win-win for our economy, for broadcasters and their viewers, and for mobile broadband and all consumers of mobile broadband. >> Molly Wood: So definitely not trying to get rid of over-the-air television. >> Julius Genachowski: No, no, no. Now, look - >> Molly Wood: [Crosstalk] to reassure people on that point [crosstalk]. >> Julius Genachowski: Yeah. This, this plan doesn't shut down over-the-air TV. It shouldn't. You know, even though about 90 percent of people now get their over-the-air signals, not over the air but through cable or satellite. There's still 10 percent of people who do get it over the air. It's millions of Americans who rely on over-the-air TV, and, and, and, and we need to have a plan for them. It's not fair to, to, to shut them down. At the same time, those numbers tell you that, you know, maybe the spectrum isn't being used as efficiently as it can be. We should tackle this. >> Molly Wood: Some of the user questions, in particular, seem to get around to the idea of broadband as a kind of right free access, and that is, that is hinted at in some parts of the plan. So one user asked specifically how long do you think, how long do you, the FCC, think that it will take before free broadband becomes a reality, and if so, is that something that would, you know, involve, like, government monitoring? >> Julius Genachowski: Yeah. Well, it's, it's the, the adoption challenge is a critical one, and Congress in the statute that asked us to do this, and our record shows, that one of the biggest obstacles to universal adoption of broadband is affordability. And we suggested in the plan a series of ways to tackle the affordability issue, and one of the ideas that suggested for consideration on the plan is the possibility that we continue to be as creative as we can with spectrum policies and consider possibilities for spectrum-based broadband services that are free or low cost. We also should try to identify ways where we can incentivize or encourage businesses to build business models that are based on free. But anything that we can do to tackle the affordability issue is, is important because our aim shouldn't be anything less than universal broadband adoption. >> Molly Wood: And then quickly, there's the overarching question that could affect all of this, of course, which is whether the FCC has the power, now, under the Communications Act to affect these changes? What's happening there, and when do you, when do you anticipate - >> Julius Genachowski: Sure. We, you know, we have the power. The FCC has, in the past, taken many actions in the broadband area, and I expect that we'll continue to have it. There's litigation going on out there that, that, that raises some questions. We're arguing strongly that we have and need to the authority to take sensible steps to promote competition, to promote broadband to rural America, to protect and empower consumers, but I'm confident that we'll continue to have the authority that we need. >> Molly Wood: Great. Well, it is a bold plan. There's a lot that's interesting in there. We didn't even get to video set top boxes, but everyone should, should go ahead and read it, and I want to thank you so much for joining us today. This has been another CNET Conversation. You can join this, the conversation at cnet dot com slash conversations, and thank you so much for watching. [ Music ]

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