Boucher makes plans for telecom reform while ramping up re-election campaign

The Spectrum Inventory Act, which was approved by the subcommittee, I believe will be on the agenda for the full committte this week or next. So we hope to approve that by the full committee and get it on the suspension calendar very quickly after that. So in maybe two weeks we’ll have that bill passed by the House.

Also, we’ll have an oversight agenda of the National Boradband Plan. We will have a set of hearings on that. There will also be oversight of NTIA and RUS as they expend broadband stimulus funds.

Finally, I think it’s really time to modernize the regulatory environment for wireless services. Those services are changing dramatically and the regulatory regime needs to keep up. Also on the agenda is legislation that will establish consumer protections for wireless services at the national level. And that would be national standard for consumer protections, rather than having state by state laws.

This industry, being as global as it is, is probably the poster child for needing national consumer protections. So it’s time to provide that.

The FCC has proposed allocation 500 megahertz of spectrum for wireless services and letting broadcasters participate in voluntary spectrum auctions. What are your thoughts on those ideas?

I think its fine to say to broadcasters, here’s an option to exercise that you don’t already have, and that is to surrender part of your spectrum….As long as it’s voluntary and broadcasters have a choice to utliize their spectrum for their own services or to relinquish part of it and share the proceeds. I think that’s a very constructive aproach. I had recommended that approach to Blair Levin a couple of months ago so I’m glad it’s materializing as part of the plan.

There’s an undeniable need for more spectrum, even with 4G and LTE surfacing later this year and the new capacity that will provide for wireless services. It won’t be but a few years until crunch time comes again.

Given the pace of transition from wired to wireless and the multiplication of wireles applications that rely on data, and those trends are accelerating. So we’re clearly going to need more spectrum, probably sooner than we currently project.

The right step is not to force the reallocation of spectrum from anyone. Passing the Spectrum Inventory bill is the right step. That would direct an investigation into the current uses of all of the wireless spectrum so we could determine what spectrum is under-utliized and could potentially be a candidate for spectrum clearing for commercial uses. It would be premature to identify particuluar slices of spectrum and force the reallocation for commercial services. We need the road map first.

How does that apply to government-owned spectrum?

To the extent that spectrum is in the hands of the government and is under-utilized, there obviously is the potential to find a way to have spectrum assigned to the government for its uses and have excess spectrum, if there is any, reallocated for commercial uses.

Of course, it’s always controversial.

When the FCC presents it’s National Broadband Plan to Congress this month, do you think it will need authority from Congress to carry out its recommendations?

I have no doubt about that. Most of what the FCC will put forth in the broadband plan will not be self-executing. These will not be steps the FCC can take entirely on their own. Most of what is recommended will likely require congressional implementation. And we’ll have a series of hearings examining that.

How will that apply to Universal Service Fund reform?

Some of the their plans do involve USF and there’s a desire to transition the fund to broadband. Our legislation does the same thing. The bill I put together with Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) takes two steps in that direction. First it authorizes recipients of USF to use whatever portion of money they want for broadband. Under current law they can’t do that–it’s only for plain old telphone services. The second step is to require that within five years, the recipients of USF funding provide broadband throughout its service territory as a condition of continuing to receive the funding.

The commision will have recommendations. I do not anticipate our legislation and the commission’s recommendations being inconsistent.

What are your thoughts about Google’s promise to build test-bed broadband networks with super-fast speeds and net neutrality rules built in?

I think it’s a great idea. By putting a demonstration program in place to show internet connections at extraordinarily high speeds, cetainly as compared to speeds here in the U.S., and having an open network with network neutrality principles at its operational core, will serve as a useful demonstration. Perhaps that will build confidence in our broadband comunity and private sector broadband community that those applications will be attractive. There will be users who’ll want to sign on to those networks with that capability who today are relegated to slower speeds. By showing the net neutrality rules are not in any way impeding the legitimate operations of network providers, I think that gives confidence that net neutrality more broadly defined can work effectively also.

Is your district applying to be part of the experiment?

Our office has reached out to our localities and we’ve encouraged them apply. I have a staff member who’s spent a great deal of time on that ever since the announccment. We’ll have a number of applications from my district to have a test-bed or two in that area.

What is your evaluation of the spending of the broadband stimulus money?

I think the agencies have done a good job. I’ve had some differences with them on the criteria for Round 1. But the suggestions we made have been incorporated into the criteria for Round 2. I give them an A. The’ve had an extraordinary amount of applications, they had to gear up the entire program, hire people, make decisions. They’ve had a year to do that and I think they’ve done it very effectively.

Some broadband providers worry that Round 2 funding will go to “middle-mile” networks in areas that already have some sort of broadband infrastructure, rather than areas that do not have any at all. What are your thoughts on that?

I think most investment will go toward places that don’t have anything. But where an anchor institution like a hospital needs 50 megabits and that simply isn’t available from a provider, the fact that there is an existing middle mile link that has very low data rates should not in any way inhibiit the investment by NTIA in the middle mile of that hospital.

Do you have any specific concerns about the proposed merger of NBC Universal and Comcast?

I think it’s important that there be no less availability of content after this combination than there was before the combination. So the person who is looking for NBC Universal content, whether it be through a multi-channel video distributor or whether it be over the top from the website, for example, that individual ought to be able to get that content to at least as great an extent after the combination as he could before.

The other side of that coin is that Comcast can not in any way make any of that content proprietary to it’s own multi-channel customers. That’s my main concern.

This came up during our hearing about the apparent blocking by Hulu content for Boxee users. (NBC CEO) Jeff Zucker said there had been blocking and that it had been a management decision by Hulu and it wasn’t NBC’s decision. I think that was a mistake. I think it’s always a mistake to try to impede the usability of new technology. That’s just my reaction to every instance were an effort is made to do that.

Can you give us any clues about what your privacy legislation will entail?

We do not want to this legislation to impede legitimate targeted advertising practices. The goal is to provide disclosure of what information is collected from internet users and give internet users the ability to decline to have that information collected or used.

The internet user would get knowledge through disclosure of what information is collected and how it is used, and then be given the opportunity to decline to have information collected and or used.

By bestowing that set of rights, I think we instill a confidence in internet users that their web experience is more secure. And that should encourage people to use the web more, and should increase the total volume of electronic commerce. Our goal is to enhance electronic commerce, and not in any way to retard it.

You have a challenger for your seat in the House this year. Are there any particular things you will campaign on?

My reelection campaigns have always been about what I’ve been doing to advance the quality of life in my district. This will be no different. When a person has served in office for a long time, that person is judged on his record. The question is, has this person helped this region or not? I’ll be talking about ways in which I have.

What are some specific areas you will highlight?

My focus has always been on new job creation and increasing economic activity and economic development in my district. I have a program in which I bring companies to the district and encourage them to locate there to create jobs. That program is directly responsible for introducing companies to the district that have created about 5,000 jobs.

In addition I’ve gotten funding over the years for broadband deployment, as well as for more traditional infrastructure such as water and wastewater facilities, and that funding has also opened the door to economic growth to jobs that can’t be as well identified. But certainly tens of thousands of jobs more.

We’re advancing the tourism economy and have obtained government grants for telemedicine. We have connected more clinics and hospitals in my district than in all but one other congressional district, which is in Alaska. About 45 clinics and hospitals are connected–they’re connected to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. All of these use broadband technologies.

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