In a long-awaited briefing with the press, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell on Tuesday outlined a broad agenda for communications services and competition in light of the faltering economy and government-wide "homeland security" efforts. Powell set forth far-reaching goals regarding broadband deployment, local competition, spectrum allocation, media regulation and homeland security, while offering few details on planned courses of action.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 have given numerous regulatory and legislative bodies impetus to move aggressively on long-standing policy questions left undecided because of their complexity, controversy or lack of clear objectives. In the case of communications, Powell said the FCC will examine ways to make the countrys infrastructure more secure and improve the ability of public safety agencies to respond to emergencies.
For several years, public safety wireless users have sought regulations to guarantee them priority access on the airwaves during crises, but commercial wireless licensees have fought the initiative. Wireless operators argue that their subscribers should not be barred from the network during emergencies, because they too use the airwaves for safety purposes. With a continued threat of terrorism at the forefront of policymakers agenda, however, it has become difficult for commercial interests to argue against public safety requests.
Spectrum allocation policies have not kept pace with the soaring demand for frequencies, and Powell said he plans to develop more market-oriented policies. "The current system is entirely reactive," he said. "We will aggressively promote spectral efficiencies." To begin, the commission will create a map of all spectrum uses, rules, licensees and users and then will examine ways for the private sector to put the scarce resource to its best use.
As for competition in the local exchange market, Powell said it is time for regulators to reconsider the approach taken since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Making it clear that he favors facilities-based competition over new entrants leasing portions of the incumbents network, Powell said wireless and cable networks offer prospects for rivaling the local telephone companies.
"Competition should come from many platforms," he told reporters this morning. The commission will initiate two new proceeding and also re-evaluate the "universal service" subsidy program to develop new competition policies, he said.