Are the FCC Workshops Fair?

The FCC has run three days of workshops on the National Broadband Plan now, for the purpose of bringing a diverse set of perspectives on broadband technology and deployment issues to the attention of FCC staff. You can see the workshop agendas here. The collection of speakers is indeed richly varied. As you would expect, the session on eGov featured a number of government people and a larger collection of folks from the non-profit sector, all but one of whom has a distinctly left-of-center orientation. Grass-roots devolution arguments have a leftish and populist flavor, so who better to make the argument than people from left-of-center think tanks?

Similarly, the sessions on technology featured a diverse set of voices, but emphasized speakers with actual technology backgrounds. Despite the technology focus, a good number of non-technologists were included, such as media historian Sascha Meinrath, Dave Burstein, Amazon lobbyist Paul Misener, and veteran telephone regulator Mark Cooper. A number of the technology speakers came from the non-profit or university sector, such as Victor Frost of the National Science Foundation, Henning Schulzrinne of Columbia University and IETF, and Bill St. Arnaud of Canarie. The ISPs spanned the range of big operators such as Verizon and Comcast down to a ISPs with fewer than 2000 customers.

Given these facts, it’s a bit odd that some of the public interest groups are claiming to have been left out. There aren’t more than a small handful of genuine technologists working for the public interest groups; you can practically count them on one hand without using the thumb, and there’s no question that their point of view was well represented on the first three days of panels. Sascha Meinrath’s comments at the mobile wireless session on European hobbyist networks were quite entertaining, although not particularly serious. Claiming that “hub-and-spoke” networks are less scalable and efficient than wireless meshes is not credible.

The complaint has the feel of “working the refs” in a basketball game, not as much a legitimate complaint as a tactical move to crowd out the technical voices in the panels to come.

I hope the FCC rolls its collective eyes and calls the game as it sees it. Solid policy positions aren’t contradicted by sound technical analysis, they’re reinforced by it. The advocates shouldn’t fear the FCC’s search for good technical data, they should embrace it.

Let a thousand flowers bloom, folks.

Cross-posted at CircleID.

One thought on “Are the FCC Workshops Fair?”

  1. The Media and Democracy Coalition’s letter says, “We urge the FCC to explain how five of the workshops taking place this week could exclude public interest groups and consumer rights advocates.”

    The reason why, of course, is that these groups would have little to bring to the party. At best, these groups tend to repeat the same mantras over and over again (“Big Companies Bad!” “Make Everything Free!”) without addressing the actual nuts and bolts of how to solve problems. And at worst, they’re shills (“astroturf” groups) which pretend to represent consumers while really representing the agendas of corporations. (Sascha Meinrath’s New America Foundation falls into this category. Its chairman is Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who channels millions of Googlebucks to the organization each year. Likewise, lobbying groups such as Free Press, Media Access Project, and Public Knowledge are puppets on Google’s strings.)

    My small, private company — which puts service ahead of profit and whose interests are aligned with those of its customers — is a far better representative of consumer interests than any of the abovementioned groups.

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