Telecom gurus discuss competition, reform at Free Press conference

Former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) official Colin Crowell, former White House technology adviser Susan Crawford, and Kenneth DeGraff, adviser to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, discussed telecom issues at the Free Press conference in Boston on Sunday. 

They took up everything from spectrum to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reform to the AT&T/T-Mobile merger. Below are some quotes from their panel discussion. 

CROWELL ON THE AT&T/T-MOBILE MERGER: “It’s obviously an important issue. Four’s better than three, three’s better than two, and two’s better than one. The antitrust division gets the first crack at it and we’ll see what they say, then the FCC will have to review it under their public interest model.” Potential “antidotes” to consolidation could include national allocation of unlicensed spectrum and community broadband efforts, he said. “The lack of choice will be pronounced more and more over time, and there’s a concern about that in many small business markets.”

CRAWFORD ON THE ‘SPECTRUM CRUNCH’: “We love to use the term ‘looming spectrum crisis.’ That’s three pretty powerful words in a row…Focusing so much on spectrum is shining a light on the wrong part of the issue.” She said the government’s focus should instead be insufficient investment in towers, backhaul, and opening up more unlicensed spectrum. 

DEGRAFF ON FCC REFORM: “There are fears that FCC reform could lead to the decimation of the agency.” He said part of the concern is that the agency could be stripped of its consumer protection powers. 

CRAWFORD ON THE COMMUNICATIONS COMPANIES: “Unfortunately the world where regulating these guys into to an inch of their life is exactly what needs to happen.”

CROWELL ON TELECOM REFORM ADVOCACY: “Remember, the Telecom Act of 1996 was a culmination of a  multiyear effort…A lot of the spadework still needs to be done on the organizing side, identifying people in the community who would benefit from reform…There are people who are losing battles in Washington they don’t even know about.”

CRAWFORD ON USAGE-BASED PRICING: “All this talk about usage-based billing and the need to recover their costs is based on not much evidence.”

DEGRAFF ON STATE EFFORTS TO BAN MUNICIPAL BROADBAND: “It was a bit of a policy fad between 2004 and 2007. All of a sudden it has come back in North Carolina and the Carolinas. It’s one of those things that hasn’t been on the radar for quite some time.” He noted that Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) had introduced a bill several years ago to prevent state prohibitions, but it ultimately fizzled. He said some federal efforts to address state bans have proposed requirements that are even more onerous than the prospective state policies.

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