Policy

‘Pretty Good’ Year for Broadband Plan in Blair Levin’s View

6/06/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — Blair Levin, former executive director
of the Federal Communications Commission’s National
Broadband Plan, declared 2011 has been a “pretty
good year” for the plan that’s aimed at increasing
high-speed Internet deployment across the country.

Levin said the plan has been a case of “two steps forward,
one step back,” and that there are some things
about which he has said “great” and others where he’s
said, “Oh, really?”

That’s to be expected, he continued, adding that it was
not meant to be a blueprint where everything has to be
exactly right.

In an interview for C-SPAN’s Communicators series,
Levin said that the plan was always meant to be
an “agenda-setting and target-clarifying device.” That
means that it has targets to both shoot for and shoot at.

CITES KEY ISSUES

He cited spectrum reform, Universal Service Fund reform
and rights-of-way reform as among its key issues.

Levin said he thought the debate had gone “off track”
on the spectrum-reform issue. He said the issue to resolve
is not whether to reallocate
spectrum, but how to reallocate
it on an ongoing basis to serve
evolving needs.

The most important resource
the government controls is spectrum,
Levin said, and the need
to reallocate that as needs arise
is getting lost in debates such as
the one over repacking broadcasters
and on whether to allocate
or auction the D block.

Levin said he supported incentive
auctions, which would compensate broadcasters
for exiting spectrum in favor of wireless broadband.
One alternative would be to wait for a crisis, then have
the government just come in and take the spectrum, he
said. He said he would be “OK” with that, but called it
was a “crisis” response that would lead to years of litigation.
Incentive auctions would be a market-based solution,
which he favors.

Asked whether broadcasters are sitting on underutilized
capital, he said some are and some aren’t,
but that the market should determine whether,
post-cable and Internet, there was still a need
for 25 or 30 TV stations in New York. For the 25th
broadcaster in New York, it may be more valuable
to sell the spectrum, he suggested.

Levin said he did not think it was likely the FCC
would make an end-of-summer deadline for reforming
the Universal Service Fund. But he said
the commission should be forgiven for missing
its deadline by a month or two — Levin’s broadband
plan missed its initial deadline. That deadline
was not as important as moving in the right
direction, he said.

AN FCC CANDIDATE?

The former FCC chief of staff did not entirely rule out his
candidacy for the next open Democratic FCC seat — likely
that of Michael Copps, who is exiting by year’s end —
but he indicated that was not on his radar.

He said, though, that he has work at the Aspen Institute,
where he is currently employed, that “would be
more fun than being the next commissioner.”

“I think I’d prefer to keep working on some of the stuff
that I am working on at Aspen. I think that is more important
for me right now.”

September