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FCC Chief Hails Broadband as Economic Engine

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As the Obama administration continues to press a domestic agenda that focuses on innovation and investment as the building blocks of a modern economy, the nation’s top communications regulator on Wednesday outlined his vision for how broadband infrastructure fits into the mix.

Speaking at a Washington forum on the economy, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski argued that his agency’s work on boosting affordable, high-speed Internet service and driving up adoption will underpin the next wave of U.S. job growth.

“The Federal Communications Commission has to do with jobs because we are the agency that’s focused on our communications infrastructure. So in the 20th century, that was mostly telephone service and old TV and devices like that. In the 21st century, it’s this new platform for innovation and job creation and economic growth called high-speed Internet — wired and wireless. So that’s the core mission of our agency,” Genachowski said.

“There’s no bigger opportunity for economic growth and job creation in the 21st century than getting our high-speed Internet infrastructure right for businesses large and small in the United States.”

Broadband, Genachowski explained, has not only become a prerequisite for doing business, but is also becoming a vital tool for job seekers. Open positions are often advertised exclusively online, and many major companies now only accept applications through their websites. At the same time, he noted recent international studies that have given the United States poor marks for the rate at which its communications infrastructure is growing.

“The costs of digital exclusion are rising,” he said,

Genachowski, echoing the pro-business tone many administration officials have recently invoked, stressed that the majority of the new Internet infrastructure will come through private investment, but that his agency seeks to gear its policy agenda toward facilitating, and at times supplementing, broadband build-outs.

After Genachowski sat for an interview with PBS correspondent Judy Woodruff this morning at the Newseum, he headed across town back to the FCC, where he delivered opening remarks at a workshop focused on steps the agency can take to remove regulatory barriers to broadband deployment. That too fits into a broader administrative agenda Obama recently promulgated in an executive order calling for a review of potentially unnecessary or overly burdensome regulations.

As part of that effort, Genachowski announced the formation of a broadband acceleration task force, charged with developing specific actions the FCC can take, or recommendations it can make to other agencies, Congress or state authorities, that would ease the process of deploying high-speed networks.

Admitting the commission’s work in this area is necessarily “wonky,” Genachowski said he is committed to reforming rules on issues like cell-tower siting, pole attachments and laying fiber, the “blood-and-guts detail issues” that ISPs have to contend with as they expand their networks.

In rural and remote areas, where private firms might not have an economic incentive for providing service, the FCC is trying to overhaul the federal subsidy originally established to ensure universal phone service to fund broadband. Just yesterday, the FCC voted unanimously to begin the process of converting one of the programs in the $8 billion Universal Service Fund (USF) to support broadband, and plans to consider other programs in the same fund at its meeting next month.

Genachowski described the removal of regulatory obstacles and USF reform as two planks of his agency’s broadband agenda, with the third encompassing efforts to make more spectrum available for wireless broadband networks.

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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