September 25, 2009 4:13 PM

Policy Personals: FCC Broadband Planner ISO "the Man in the Mirror"

I have to confess, I haven't been following the Commission's major initiative: the development of the National Broadband Plan.  Why?  I guess I'm just skeptical about the ability of the regulator (or any other central planner) to anticipate innovation, much less promote it.  From what I've seen, the best the government can do is to try to enforce the rules that exist, on the one hand, and, on the other, to eliminate rules that hinder healthy growth in commerce.  The idea of the government "creating" a "broadband plan" and then seriously expecting private firms to cooperate is just something I don't think I've ever witnessed--outside of an economy with much deeper government participation in the marketplace than we have here in the U.S. 

So, I haven't been following along mostly because I can't figure out why this regulator-driven plan would be any more successful than any other "plan" from any other central planner.  In fact, one thing about the "fact gathering" for the Plan makes me wonder whether this is even what Congress had in mind when they asked the FCC to come up with a "Plan."  Specifically, the methodology for "creating" the "plan" seems--from the panels the Commission is holding--exclusively, and excessively, focused on factors beyond the Commission's ability to influence. 

But, given the Agenda for the next FCC meeting on September 29th (progress on "the Plan"), I decided to take a gander at what the FCC has been looking at to develop the National Broadband Plan.  A cursory glance at the web site displays a profound lack of introspection into how the Commission's current policies are influencing--for better or worse--broadband deployment.  In the previous post, I noted the IUB decision earlier this week, finding "traffic pumping" to be a violation of the traffic pumpers' tariffs. 

Given that access charge revenue is only available for originating or terminating circuit-switched calls, any regulatory scheme that allows access charges to artificially expand is tantamount to paying carriers not to deploy broadband and not to switch to an all-IP format. Yet the Commission sees no sense of urgency to reform intercarrier compensation, and is even entertaining a Petition to Preempt the IUB decision.

Similarly, higher USF "taxes" limit the amount of funds available to carriers who have yet to deploy broadband, and the "squeeze" gets tighter every quarter, as the contribution factor inexorably increases.  Expanding the contribution factor, or more closely scrutinizing subsidized services are issues that have simply faded from the Commission's screen--and I mean this literally.  Under "strategic goals" at the FCC web site (on the left hand side of the screen), Universal Service and Intercarrier Compensation are two issues that are nowhere to be found.

Is it me, or would a good look in the mirror, help the Commission better assess the influences of its current policies, so that--if necessary--the FCC could change the things that are easiest to change?  It's kind of like looking at a "muscle magazine" and designing an exercise/diet/fitness program, dreaming about how big and buff you're going to get . . . all the while, conveniently ignoring that you're smoking two packs a day and drinking a six-pack every night.  Wouldn't you want to know if you could reach your goals faster, just by getting out of your own way?

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