Baker talks net neutrality, spectrum


What is your philosophy regarding network neutrality?
We want to have an open Internet and the free flow of lawful content on the internet and we all agree on that. Where we disagree is whether consumers and innovation would best be served by rules of net neutrality. I worry about the unintended consequences.

I am not convinced we have a problem that we need to address. There have been two instances of bad actors and I think they’ve been dealt with expeditiously. We’re going to have to take a close data driven record to move forward. … The item that was originally introduced to us was very conclusion-oriented. I think the chairman’s office and bureau heads were very helpful in working with us to where we’re asking questions, we’re at the beginning of this process, not the end, and there is not a determined end yet at this time.

What is an appropriate definition of “reasonable network management?"
It’s an evolving process and I don’t think there is one definition. I’m most familiar with the wireless networks. Clearly there has to be prioritization on wireless networks for them to work. …

As we go forward I’m actually not clear how we could impose network neutrality rules on wireless networks. I think we’ll leave it to engineers as we move forward to see how we can actually do that. What we don’t want to do here, especially in course of developing a national broadband plan, is to do anything that would harm the innovation and investment in these networks. We’re encouraging them to build out and be faster and bigger and better, so we want to make sure we don’t do anything to damage that.

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What do you think is the best way to spur innovation?
We’re looking at that through national broadband plan. What we’re learning is …in the deployment area, we’ve actually done a pretty good job. There’ve been economic incentives that don’t tax these networks, there’s some research-and-development tax credits that have worked very well. I think the regulatory environment we’ve created has allowed these networks to build out free of over-burdensome regulations. As we move forward with a national plan, we want to continue with those incentives as well as find others.

How can the FCC unleash more spectrum?

We’ve done a very good job. We’ve put 3 times as much spectrum out for commercial access currently and these networks are still just being built, with 700 Mhz and AWS spectrum. We’re good today, but what we don’t have is a strategic plan for tomorrow.

Right now there are about 270 million mobile subscribers, and of that only about 40 million are mobile broadband subscribers. Among 18-29 year-olds, 93 percent of those are Internet mobile subscribers. Our crisis is not today, but it’s going to be coming around the corner pretty quickly.

I think we need to find more spectrum, I think we need to leverage the spectrum that exists currently more efficiently, and we need to encourage new technologies an innovation.


You’ve said you think we need more flexible spectrum policy. What do you mean?
We need a more vibrant secondary market. I’m talking about more spectrum sharing between private and federal. There’s going to be a lot that can be done in those areas that almost all depend on a better database.  One of the recommendations you’re going to see is a more user-friendly, a more thorough database that can be used on an hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute basis.

Where can the FCC find more spectrum? Should it come from broadcasters?

I think all ideas are on the table. Broadcasters have 294 Mhz of spectrum and we’re going to need in the range of 800 Mhz. It’s not the golden egg. It might be part of the solution.

We have a great broadcasting infrastructure here, they are a big part of our local and national dialogues so I don’t think this discussion should be at all anti-broadcast. Broadcasters are also looking for new business models. The mobile video standard was just set. So I think we ought to take a look at, do those broadcast rules need to be attached to that service? A comprehensive look at everything should be on the table.

What are your thoughts on unlicensed spectrum--specifically, unused broadcast airwaves known as "white spaces?"
We’re looking at issues with wireless mics right now. As soon as we solve that problem as to where to move them--we don’t want to move them once and then have to move them again--it’s a long range planning process but I think we’re close to fully being able to implement some white spaces. 

I don’t expect we’d take all the broadcasters’ spectrum, but I suspect that there might be some in there that might be more efficiently used in a commercial wireless sense. We’re looking at a bunch of different parts of the spectrum to see if there’s a more efficient use of it so that consumers can have a wider variety of choices.

What about reallocating spectrum licensed to federal agencies?
NTIA actually did a strategic plan looking at spectrum that federal agencies use. We need to do the same thing at the FCC and we need to bring those two plans together and see if there is some room for, possibly,… someone at the Defense Department to use some commercial spectrum.

Certainly some of these technologies that are out there, cognitive radios, software-to-find radios, these are in technologies both in the DoD and commercial spectrum. These things are going to make it easier in the sharing of spectrum. We need to expedite that development and make it easier to bring to market.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has said he is concerned the broadband plan will be incomplete when it is submitted in February. How do you respond?
You want to make sure we comprehensively take a pen to all the data, but it’s impractical to think we’re going to solve universal service within the plan. I laugh about the commission these days because all these decades-old problems—inter-carrier compensation, universal service or special access—are all walking around the FCC saying, if you solve me, you have solved broadband for America. What I hope is that we can take a comprehensive look and we can move forward to solve all of them. But that probably won’t be by Feb. 17. I think we will have action plans shortly thereafter…to set out goals we can take actionable work on over the next year.

Do you think the Universal Service Fund needs to be overhauled?
I think there’s no doubt …that the time has come to reevaluate universal service.…I don’t think as five commissioners we feel ready to vote on how that path forward is going to be. I’m ready to put the wheels in motion to come up with a new plan, but I don’t think we’re ready to say this is the direction universal service fund is going to take.

The FCC will start its media ownership review next year. What is your philosophy on that?

I think we have a changed marketplace and we need to look at that. I’m particularly concerned when I see some of the small and mid-sized media markets having financial problems in this hard economic time. I’m encouraged that it seems that we are really putting ourselves on course to come up with rules that are going to be sustainable in court.

Do you have a position on industry consolidation, in particular the proposed Comcast-NBC merger?
We are charged to look at the public interest, competition, localism and diversity. I certainly don’t want to comment on something we may in front of us shortly. I think we need to do it timely. We have a 180 day shot clock on this. I think the XM-Sirius merger took 500 days. I also think that mergers should be dealt with on the merger proceeding in front of you and that you shouldn’t attach conditions that are extraneous to the merger.

You have also talked about your interest in more Internet parental controls.

For kids, the television has become the laptop, which has become the iPod. It has all been seamlessly integrated but we have not empowered parents or educated parents about how to raise their children in the digital age…We need better technology and better education. Hopefully we’ll be working with industry to come up with solutions that work across all the platforms.

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