Happy Planniversary! Q&A with NBP architect Blair Levin

Q: What are you going to do to celebrate the NBP's first birthday?

A: Had a party [Tuesday] night with the team; spent the morning at an ITIF conference with the leaders of the National Purposes Group; spent the afternoon working on my next adventure; will spend the evening where I didn’t during the Plan: at home, having dinner with the family.

Q: Who would play you in the movie version of the NBP? Please also cast any other key players whether in industry or at the FCC.

A: My brother once said (dating both him and me) that I was a curious combination of Atticus Finch, Michael Corleone, and Woody Allen. So I guess an actor that could do all three would work, but I have no idea who he is. As to the rest of the leadership team, I would go with Colin Firth playing Erik Garr, Michelle Yeoh playing Phoebe Yang and Russell Crowe playing Carlos Kirjner. And of course, Daniel Radcliffe would have to play Andrew Nesi, who was the young wizard behind everything in the plan. As to others, I will reserve my casting calls to myself. Though I will note, the topic did come up on occasion.

Q: I was thinking that the country is going to have to rally and keep its enthusiasm up if we're going to really prioritize broadband issues and accomplish the goals of the plan. So I was thinking it might be helpful if the NBP had a mascot. What do you think it should be? 

A: Tigger...First, because [the NBP] was born in the transition as part of TIGR (technology, innovation and government reform) group. Second, because it was bouncy and fun. And because it was the only one. Of course, Obi Wan Kenobe—the power of the force and all that—wouldn’t be bad, either.

Q: There are times when people rave about broadband in small, highly-connected countries. As you were working on the plan, did have any moments where you thought, 'I wish I was the broadband architect for South Korea' because maybe that would be easier?

A: Yeah...if I only spoke Korean. More seriously, I greatly admire what they are doing there, as they see the long game. They are constantly reassessing and improving. But the United States still drives innovation in use, which is what matters most. That is a lead, however, that will not last forever if we don’t adopt some of the changes recommended in the plan.

Q: Do you prefer, “architect of NBP, Blair Levin,” or “NBP author, Blair Levin,” or “NBP czar Blair Levin”? I've seen all three.

A: When Interim Chair [Michael] Copps asked me to do this and what my title should be for the press release, I said I wanted to be a verb. He didn’t understand so I explained that I wanted the entirety of the press release to read “Blair Levin is returning the commission to assist with the preparation of the National Broadband Plan.” I still like that description best.

Q: Was there any panicked feeling over taking an extra month on the NBP?

A: No. All of the stakeholders, with one very minor exception, agreed that it was worth the month. And after all, by the time the team started working, about half the time was already gone.

Q: What's the most grating misunderstanding you've confronted about the NBP?

A: That the only thing that counts is the speed of the wireline network to rural homes.  It is a very counterproductive way to think about the problem. The right way is to ask: how do we have a ubiquitous, diverse and constantly improving ecosystem of networks, devices, applications, and most of all, people who know how to use them.

Q: During a year that has sometimes been characterized by acrimony between the FCC and industry, one thing everyone seems to agree on is that the NBP is a major accomplishment for the commission. Do they just like you? 

A: [Laughs]. One thing that ties together my former jobs as Chief of Staff and an equity analyst, is that to stay on mission, you can’t worry about whether people like you and I think I have lived up to that. In this case, I think everyone who understands the policy process agrees, plan beats no plan. And the team—which includes hundreds of FCC staffers—wrote a great plan.

Q: What do you think you'll be doing on the tenth anniversary of the broadband plan?

A: Reading bedtime stories to my grandchildren over Skype in beautiful, two-way high-definition video. (Memo to my kids: no pressure).