Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski on Tuesday discussed his vision for how expanding high-speed Internet access can grow America’s economy.
“No infrastructure matters more for job creation and economic growth in the 21st century than broadband Internet,” Genachowski said in a speech at the Washington headquarters of daily deal website LivingSocial.
“You’ve created a product of real value to consumers and businesses — particularly small businesses —helping them expand their sales, lower their costs and put people to work,” he said.
Genachowski said the private sector must lead the way in expanding broadband, but added that “government has a limited but essential role to play.”
He touted the FCC’s accomplishments during his tenure, including controversial net-neutrality rules officially published Friday, which he said would increase certainty and predictability for businesses.
“We’ve gotten a lot done. But there is more to do,” he said.
Genachowski said the FCC must make more spectrum available for mobile devices. Demand for spectrum, the public airwaves that technologies use to transmit signals, has increased dramatically in recent years as data-hungry smartphones and tablet computers have become more popular.
“The spectrum crunch is the single biggest threat to one of the most promising parts of our economy,” Genachowski said.
He called for voluntary incentive auctions to encourage television broadcasters to give up their spectrum. Under that proposal, which is part of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, broadcasters would put their spectrum up for auction in exchange for some of the proceeds from the auctions.
Broadcasters argue any auction plan should include strong protections to ensure no television station is forced out of business against its will.
Genachowski said the proposal would generate $25 billion for taxpayers, and he reiterated his call for using some of the revenue to fund a nationwide public-safety network for first-responders. He also urged Congress to pass spectrum legislation immediately.
“A spectrum crunch looms, and the costs of delay are significant and grow every day,” he said.
Genachowski said the FCC must reform its Universal Service Fund to focus on expanding broadband deployment. The fund was originally intended to expand landline phone service to rural areas, but Genachowski said modernizing the program to pay for expanding broadband would create jobs.
He argued that broadband is now essential to participation in the economy because many companies only post jobs online, and many jobs require basic Internet literacy. He said the government must initiate new programs to encourage people to get broadband access and educate them about how to use the Internet.
Although the FCC chairman acknowledged that the Internet has destroyed jobs at businesses such as video stores, newspapers and the Yellow Pages, he pointed to a study that found that the Internet creates 2.6 jobs for every one that it destroys.
“Broadband is a bright spot in our overall economy and helps light a path to broad economic health and widespread opportunity,” he said.
LivingSocial CEO Tim O’Shaughnessy spoke before Genachowski and said his company’s future will rely on consumers being able to buy online deals on their smartphones.
Warren Brown, founder of CakeLove, a Washington bakery that has offered deals on LivingSocial, said his business has been able to grow thanks to broadband.
“For us broadband is an essential tool, just as important as the phone, just as important as the mixer, just as important as the cash register,” he said.