13 Apr FCC may restructure to tackle broadband regulation
The Federal Communications Commission is discussing how to rewrite the entire statute that governs how the agency works and how it regulates communications, said Kathleen Abernathy, an FCC Commissioner and graduate of Marquette University.
Abernathy spoke to communications executives gathered at the Eighth Annual Midwestern Telecommunications & Technology Conference in Milwaukee.
“In a world where broadband is king, a world where multiple competitors offer a variety of entrepreneurial services over a broadband platform, what should be the appropriate regulatory framework?” she asked.
The FCC is re-evaluating its approach of applying regulations to traditional common carriers and extending them to new communications that include cable operators, wireless broadband providers and others. The FCC needs to focus on core policy decisions that will provide the agency with a broader reach and allow the market to flourish, she said.
“We need to think more creatively as new technologies grow,” said Abernathy, who has served as an FCC commissioner since 2001. “Old regulations do not make sense in a new world. This new world of new technologies and providers will tell us what we need to think about how we regulate.”
Regulatory policy discussions aside, the FCC still must work with the rules that are in place today, Abernathy said. But she said there is a sound basis for the rewrite of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Telecom reform bills tend to be dated the day they are signed, said Jeffrey Silva, another speaker at the conference who is Washington bureau chief for RCR Wireless News. The 1996 Telecommunications Act gave little mention to wireless communication and the Internet, which are the two biggest driving forces today, Silva said.
With the rapid proliferation of communications technology, the FCC can’t wait for Congress to act in terms of enacting new legislation, Silva said. In the wireless arena, the FCC has taken steps toward expansion and reform of the broadband spectrum.
“They see where the world is headed, and it’s broadband,” Silva added.
An FCC business success story resulted from the manner in which the federal agency decided how and when it would regulate wireless services, Abernathy said.
The question the FCC faced was whether to go with a traditional regulatory approach concentrating on prevention of interference and quality of service. Instead, the FCC enacted a broader set of rules, and the end result for consumers has been nationwide service plans that have led to robust price competition and technological innovation. Rather than regulating prices, this allows the market to flourish, Abernathy said.
Another quandary facing the FCC is what to do with Internet telephony and how it should be regulated at both the state and national levels. The FCC also needs to improve its outreach and help consumers understand their rights and consumers, Abernathy said.
“We need more educated consumers who understand choices and who to go with their bills,” she said.