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FCC chair: We have a plan for better broadband

Speaking at All Things D, Julius Genachowski insists the government can help matters when it comes to the United States' comparatively slow and expensive broadband.

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif.--Pressed on why the U.S. pays more for slower broadband than other countries, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Wednesday that the government has a plan.

"We do," he said in a speech at the D: All Things Digital conference. "I think we have a plan to tackle this."

Julius Genachowski
Julius Genachowski FCC

"I think we are going to have spectrum congestion for a long time," he said.

Genachowski also pointed to the role that unlicensed spectrum can play, pointing to what happened when the FCC opened up a particular part of the spectrum. The first thing, to use the range, he said, was garage door openers. Not that long after, came Wi-Fi. "It created a trillion dollar industry," he said.

Another issue, he said, is the fact that the country pours money into a universal fund for phone calls, but not for broadband. Recent court rulings, he said, have hampered moves to shift that money, he said.

"It's crazy not to do it," he said. "It's one of the things we should do sooner rather than later."

Among the impacts of slower broadband is slower overall innovation, he suggested, pointing to the fact that chip gear maker Applied Materials recently moved its chief technology officer to China, saying that's where the action is.

Part of the problem, he agreed, is Washington with its checks and balances and other bottlenecks.

"Elements of our system are broken," he said. "I worry about that more and more."

Asked by moderator Walt Mossberg if he is concerned about iPhone-related AT&T network issues, Genachowski said that he is more worried about areas where consumers lack information to make informed choices, such as the fact four in five consumers don't know the speed of their home broadband network.

"That's an area where we are getting engaged in," he said. "Speed matters."

Genachowski said that options that allow the market to function better are preferable to ones where the government has to take direct action.

"And you are actually a Democrat," Mossberg quipped. "Is that true?"

Pressed on why there isn't competition in the set-top box market, a point raised by Steve Jobs as well as panelists, Genachowski conceded that the current approach using CableCards has been a failure.

"It hasn't worked," he said. "It hasn't generated competition."

There are some planned fixes coming, he said, but added "it's not the long-term answer."

Instead, Genachowski pointed to efforts at universal home broadband gateways, though the target for the introduction of those isn't until 2010.

Genachowski began his talk by continuing the day-long iPad lovefest, saying that on a recent trip to India he had packed his iPad, along with a Kindle and laptop, but didn't open his laptop once.

An audience member asked whether President Obama had an iPad. "I don't know if he has an iPad yet," he said. "I'm sure that will be taken care of."

More broadly, Genachowski said that the country is benefiting from a president who gets technology and its implications.