Liveblog: Reforming The Federal Communications Commission
Liveblog: Reforming The Federal Communications Commission
Liveblog: Reforming The Federal Communications Commission

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    Today, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., we’re co-hosting a conference, on the topic of Reforming the FCC, along with the Silicon Flatirons Center at the University of Colorado. Today’s speakers will include former FCC Chairmen Reed Hundt and William Kennard. Former Commissioner Nicholas Johnson, who wrote the classic book, How to Talk Back to Your Television Set, and former Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy will also take part. For those of you who can’t make it to the conference in person, I’ll be liveblogging it here from start to finish. Click here for more information on the conference and be sure to read the liveblog after the break.

    12:37 pmConference has ended. Please visit FCC-Reform.Org later today, to access documents from this conference and to continue the discussion online.

    12:35 pm – Kennard: “As I have been around the world looking for investment opportunities during these last few years, there is a vacuum of leadership from the U.S. on these issues…not having the U.S. government play a central role as a voice for business is really tragic”

    12:34 pm – Hundt: “The telecom agreement of ’97 was mostly about voice, we don’t have a deal like that for data”

    12:30 pm – Kennard: “I found it liberating [to outline what the FCC would do in a coming year]…it would eliminate a lot of the gaming that goes on right now at the FCC…just tell the people, what are your priorities, what do you want to get done, the agency has gotten away for that and I think that’s really dangerous”

    12:29 pm – Hundt: “I think it’s really important for the next FCC to figure out how it’s going to work with the other independent agencies…there’s an extreme perspective that that something wrong with the Executive branch working with the independent agencies at all…the FCC is going to need to be much more open about what it’s trying to do and how it’s going to do it…it just doesn’t work well when you feel that your principle communication with people at the FCC was some informal chit-chat that’s recorded in some oblique filing…but that doesn’t work for anyone, you have no way to share what the facts are…whatever the FCC is trying to accomplish ought to be transparent to the Executive branch and vice versa”

    12:26 pm – Bill Kennard: “First and foremost you need someone up there [in the Executive branch] to care about what the FCC does…it’s a great help to a Chairman, whenever there were issues that I didn’t think I could get the right alignment on the Commission to get something done, I always knew I could get help from Al Gore and the people around him”

    12:24 pm – Bill Kennard: “There is a culture there of what I call “hot potato”: you get a hot potato issue and you just kick it to the next team”

    12:22 pm – Bill Kennard: There’s a huge opportunity to build on relationships with Congressional leadership anew…there’s an opportunity for the next Chair to meet with leaders in Congress early on with a vision of how the agency should move forward

    12:20 pm – Bill Kennard: “It pains me to see the talent that’s walked out the door [at the FCC] in the last few years…all they want is leadership…we need to make the FCC a place where people want to come to start their careers…President Obama will think about what the management team will look like as a leadership team…there has to be much more emphasis on bringing people in at all levels with different types of expertise…when you really understand how the business world works, it really makes a difference”

    12:18 pm – Bill Kennard: “Something the agency really needs to look at is process and procedure, especially the way the Commission is lobbied. There is a culture of politicization that really needs to change…people know that the real negotiations take place right before and sometimes even after Sunshine”

    12:17 pm – Bill Kennard: “I think that first and foremost…the agency needs to sit down collectively and really think deeply about what is the right market structure for the industry…When I took on the Chairmanship of the agency, so much was driven my the 96 telecom act…in retrospect, I wish I had asked this question and I encourage the next Chairman to ask it: ‘What should the market structure for the industry going to look like?’…by not doing that, what we faced was a wave of mergers”

    12:14 pm – Bill Kennard: “When Reed took office, I remember, he called all of us in and said, ‘I want all of us to think about how each one of us can be an engine of job creation here at the FCC’…it was changing the culture of the agency and we have that opportunity again.”

    12:13 pm – Bill Kennard: “I would just step back and marvel at what a great opportunity the new FCC and the new Chairman will have…the Obama campaign really revolutionized the use of technology in politics and people will be writing about that for generations…President Obama will take office surrounded by people who are infused and motivated with this appreciation for how technology can help move the country forward.”

    12:09 pm – Reed Hundt: “We’ve rounded a corner as a country…the question for the FCC is how do we get this investment going, what does it look like, what is the market situation that allows is…we need to bring an end to the era of consolidation, shrinkage and withdrawal from new markets…we need to be aware when it’s a very hard thing to do when the executives from these companies are under a lot of pressure…you really have to look at market structure in a way that makes investment irresistible for these companies”

    12:07 pm – Reed Hundt: “The most important question is what role can [the FCC] play in revitalizing non-residential fixed assets…I’m not saying that we shouldn’t save the financial services industry…but the situation should be that our companies see things to invest in and we want those things to be in this country”

    12:06 pm – Reed Hundt: “The reason why the financial services buest was certain to occur is that financial services’ share of market cap and their share of profits were abnormally, extraordinarily and unsustainably high”

    12:04 pm – Reed Hundt: “The share of the wallet devoted to telecommunications went up…the single greatest use of electricity in the home now is consumer electronics…in the business sector, the greatest use of electricity is in the data center”

    12:02 pm – Reed Hundt: “The important thing is to think about the differences between these eras…there’s the time period of the 90s when there was a continually increasing demand for all these packets…frankly it was difficult for us to even get in the way of it…from 1997 to 2007, that runs right through the stock market bubble and bust…during that time, there was 850 billion dollars of investment in that sector”

    11:55 amBeginning of keynote discussion

    11:49 am – Kathryn C. Brown: “We do want diversity, we do want people of color, we do want female voices…I would assert that the people that we bring in have to represent the best of us in all of those aspects”

    11:48 am – Ellen Goodman: “As you move toward a competitive model, that’s where you get the biggest bang for your buck…as you realize that certain jobs have become obsolete, you also have to realize that certain jobs have become more important”

    11:45 am – Nick Johnson: We tend to reorganize by moving boxes…I think if you’re really giong to reform any agency, you need to get down to the micro level…someone needs to ask every single person there, ‘What are you doing, why are you doing it, who told you to start, why in the hell didn’t someone tell you to stop?'”

    11:42 am – Ellen Goodman: “Any big, complex proceeding is still going to be cross-cutting and I’m not sure how to solve that…I think that the idea of rotating Commissioners is a good one”

    11:40 am – Kyle Dixon: “I think any particular approach is going to have some tradeoffs, I think that having a study is my preference, one that’s open to public comment…you certainly could skin that cat through other means, such as hiring more of those staffers and giving them access to more of those offices…we may be kind of stuck in the short term, with the Communications Act as written…if a Chairman sets the tone, the bureaus will collaborate early and often…In the short term, I think we may need to try a hybrid approach”

    11:37 am – Henry Geller: “What you would have then is a focus by the President that “I have to appoint a highly qualified person to do it”…I know that we would lose something because there are some excellent Commissioners and we would lose the dialog and viewpoints that they have…Nobody puts items on the agenda now, the Chairman seems to control everything…the reason it has not been done is because of the regulation of broadcast, you’re looking at a program that requires public service programs and no one wants a single adminstrator to be in charge of that…I believe that if you took that out, the effort to make the commercial broadcasters render public service is a total waste…I believe that it is wrong to adopt a regulatory policy that requires someone to act against his driving interests…public television should do it…instead of that, I would take what I take out of cable, 5% of gross advertising revenues and I would give it to public broadcasters…if you gave 1% to public broadcasters, you would have a structure that would work for a high level of achievement for public service…it won’t work now and I’m not saying that this new administration should do it…but, if you don’t start on this, it won’t come in, it took decades to get rid of the ICC”

    11:30 am – Kyle Dixon: “What I’d like to see more of is the Commission focusing on the young generation, what the policy goals should be and then taking a breath and figuring out what are the best ways to reach those goals.”

    11:30 am – Kathryn C. Brown: “There is a huge workload and a lot of it ought to go away…there are functions that are happening that we really have to look at whether or not they’re necessary…most of those functions are performed by the bureau chiefs and never even reach the Commissioners”

    11:27 am – Nick Johnson: “The FCC is confronted with and disposes of a workload every week that exceeds what the Supreme Court puts out in a year…there’s this enormous amount of stuff that needs to be disposed of…maybe some of that could be dealt with by a single-headed agency on an administrative basis…in terms of ensuring a broad public debate on issues, I think there are mechanisms other than the FCC that can do that, including the process that we’re embarking on today”

    11:25 am – Ellen Goodman: “The fact is, nothing really happens in a proceeding until the last minute and that’s why the ex parte system is such a mess…[the en banc hearings] are a terrific way to get public dialog and comment even with Sunshine”

    11:23 am – Henry Geller: “There’s a tendency–and this is the worst kind of bureaucratic impulse–to take the easy way out…in the end if you really have to find something else, you have to issue an early notice, it’s wasteful…I think if you’re data driven, you start studying what is actually happening in the industry and abroad and then you start hammering out rules that are in the notice…I would get rid of the Sunshine Act by simply having a single administrator, the other Commissioners would disappear. I’ll explain later.”

    11:18 am Kathleen Abernathy: “I think that the Sunshine Act is one of the biggest impediments to robust dialog and debate between the Commissioners…is leads to, like you said, Kabuki theater in the meetings because its all been done…it’s not a well-run process designed to yeild the best result…I think it sometimes leads to comprimises that would not have been made if you had been allowed to get three of the Commissioners to circle around an issue…[the Sunshine Act] is a problem and I hope that at some time it will be fixed because in the meantime, you’re dealing second hand with some very important issues”

    11:15 am – Nick Johnson: “The point is that to break out of this cocoon, you need to look beyond the filings, the court decisions, the trade press…you need to reach beyond that, to read the academic material, the blogs, the general press…to read widely about relevant issues that concern the FCC, pieces that no staffer is going to bring you, that no lobbyist is going to bring you…I think a lot of these proceedings, if you get good people in the Commission, I think they will, on their own, solve a lot of these problems”

    11:13 am – Henry Geller: “[Before the Sunshine Act], the FCC meetings got very rough…the Commissioners fought with one another…it almost got to fisticuffs but the point I’m making is that they were for real…What you have now is a Kabuki. It’s a charade…It seems to me that no matter how well-intentioned the Sunshine Act is, it is not working effectively…I think that we’ve lost something called robust, wide-open debate”

    11:10 am – Kathryn C. Brown: “To understand who the stakeholder community is that you have to talk to seems to me to be a first step of inquiry…the question has to be asked, where is the best place to ensure competition and protect consumers. I’m not sure that’s at the FCC.”

    11:08 am – Nick Johnson: “I think one of the things you need to do as an FCC Commissioner or as an FCC staffer is to recognize the extent to which you are inside an enclosed system where you talk to other Commissioners…this idea of going around one Commissioner at a time, I didn’t think made a lot of sense…the other thing is, there was a time when there was a provision that an agency could pay the cost of a public interest group coming before it if if could prove that it had benefitted from the knowledge…the thing is that you’ve got a group of folks who are extremely well-funded against a group of people with no money”

    11:04 am – Kathleen Abernathy: “[The Chairman] really needs to empower and trust his staff, he needs to have the confidence and the foresight that they can handle a lot of these day to day things. If you get mired in the day to day dealings of the agency, you lose sight of where you’re going…you end up taking very intelligent people and prevent them from doing their jobs.”

    11:02 am – Kyle Dixon: “When we say strategic planing, we’re also thinking about what particular regulatory philosophy the Chairman and the other Commissioners have”

    10:59 am – Kyle Dixon: “I’m a strong supporter of shifting the balance of the FCC toward technical expertise and away from a political focus”

    10:54 am – Nick Johnson: “I’m not saying that academy holds all the answers but the more we open the dialog…let the academic community know, these are the problems we anticipate dealing with 10 years from now, let the graduate students write papers and dissertations and see what they come up with”

    10:54 am – Henry Geller: “There was a philosophy in the ’60s of open entry…even after you say open entry and competition in telecom, it leaves you with how you’re going to get it…after the 1996 act it was clear that Congress had opted for competition…it has to be data driven, you have to look at the data and then make a decision that’s transparent”

    10:52 am – Ellen Goodman: There’s a tension between well thought-out strategy and speed

    10:45 am – Kathleen Abernathy: “Administrations vary too, so this emphasis on telecommunications…varies across different Administrations…I agree with Kathy that you should have a strategic plan, you should know where you want to go…but you must appreciate that daily, you will be bombarded with other demands…so, in the midst of the daily crisis, you must also go back and say what’s my strategic plan and how do I get there…unlike a company, where you have to answer to your shareholders every quarter…in the government, if something’s really, really hard, you tend to put it off and you hope that there’s a magic answer…as a government agency you must have self-imposed deadlines…that’s one of the greatest challenges with a strategic plan, the harder it gets, the greater the possibility that you’re going to get stalled and that’s a great risk for the consumer”

    10:45 am – Kathryn C. Brown: “I am of the view that much, much too much has been put on the FCC as a regulatory agency, after all, it’s a regulatory agency, it was not to be a policy agency…we’re going to have an Administration that cares deeply about what this technology means and where we’re going to go as a country”

    10:40 am – Kathryn C. Brown: “One needs to imagine the future so that one can think about what one is doing in the present…if you look at history, it gives you perspective on the decisions that you’re making…government policymaking should start with the notion of what story is being told…that pulls you back to think about what role you play in the story”

    10:39 am – First question: What are your thoughts on the agency’s use of strategic planning and gathering of independent research?

    10:35 am – Phil Weiser introduces the second panel

    10:20 amPanel ends, 15 minute break until 10:35 am

    10:19 am – Mark Cooper: “Don’t complain about the statute that you agreed to uphold. If you don’t like the statute, you should have run for Congress”

    10:16 am – Jessica Rosenworcel: “For the time being, we’re going to see an FCC that handles economic questions and non-economic questions, that’s how Congress likes it”

    10:15 am – Mark Cooper: “Television licenses are powerful broadcast licenses and as long as that remains the case, public interest conditions must be attached…Barack Obama did not spend millions of dollars on TV advertising because he’s dumb”

    10:13 am – Mike Marcus: “The DTV promotion is something I think the FCC has done a miserable job at…when you’re distributing millions of dollars, there’s obviously going to be a lot of exploitation of that…the FCC has done a poor job on the oversight of how the money was spent”

    10:10 am – Pierre DeVries: “Once it’s clear that there are overlaps…then the Congress and the Chairman can address them…right now the overlaps are much too hidden and complex to be resolved”

    10:09 am – Phil Weiser: “DTV is an entirely different type of enterprise that involves public education…something they have not taken seriously…they have to own those functions more seriously and that public information one is a big one”

    10:08 am – Mark Cooper: “The FCC has been captured by the D.C. Circuit and that’s a bad thing”

    10:07 am – Phil Weiser: “The climate of fear at the FCC has become endemic…part of why the FCC hasn’t done good work is that it hasn’t been an open exchange of ideas, it’s been a results-driven process”

    10:03 am – Mark Cooper: “A conflict of interest problem is deadly, if you let it run wild and that’s what we’ve seen in the financial sector…the notion that you can create structures that allow [conflicts of interest] to occur and then police them flies in the face of experience…the counterpart to that is that we have to increase the attractiveness of public service”

    10:00 am – Jessica Rosenworcel: DTV transition and [broadband] stimulus will be primary concerns when Congress convenes tomorrow.

    9:59 am – Pierre DeVries: “There is no way of testing the public interest that any lawyer has been able to explain to me”

    9:56 am – Jonathan Sallet: “There is no episode of ‘Law and Order’ that doesn’t have some lawyer examining some witness. We’ve got to ensure that the FCC is at least as good a legal system as “Law and Order.'”

    9:55 am – Mark Cooper: “The public was not given due process and proper notification…public hearings, absolutely, those are the kind of things that make these guys go out to the countryside and get yelled at for 8 hours but you know what? There are people out there who really care about these things”

    9:53 am – Mark Cooper: “I have come to the conclusion that the single greatest year in FCC regulatory history was 1968…in 1968 the FCC made two important decisions: Carterphone and the computer inquiries. Those are some of the cornerstones of the Internet and people tend to forget that”

    9:50 am – Jessica Rosenworcel: “You have an agency that has lost sight of its mission…how do you create an agency that’s more accountable to the American public?..Imagine an agency where you could look up information on available broadband plans”

    9:46 am – Mark Cooper: “The public interest needs to be protected and the only way to prevent abuse of the public interest is to put [a ban keeping FCC officials from working in private industry for X number of years] in place…we need to sever that link…you can’t work in the public interest if you’ve got that in the back of your mind”

    9:44 am – Mike Marcus: “In other regulatory agencies, the top managers aren’t fired when a new administration takes office…in the Japanese equivalent of the FCC, people rotate from bureau to bureau and quite frankly, that reduces capture…in the FCC there’s virtually no rotation”

    9:41 am – Pierre DeVries: “We are in a complex system that has collapses, there are booms and busts…we’ll see it again in the communications space, we’ll see it again in the financial space…the question is, how do we manage a system that has booms and busts?”

    9:39 am – Mark Cooper: “We have to create a balance between the Commissioners…and we need to create those sources of information as independent…we need to get as close to ‘raise your right hand and tell the truth’ adjudication as we possibly can”

    9:37 am – Mark Cooper: “I say we need laws, [Phil] says we need culture…it turns out, they’re both necessary but neither is sufficient”

    9:35 am – Jonathan Sallet: “Something significant has happened and the FCC ought to focus on what the lessons of that are”

    9:34 am – Phil Weiser: “It’s not easy to change culture, to change habits, they die hard…you need a shock to the system, this is where the executive branch and Congress can play a role…we’re losing innovation, we’re losing consumer value…to change that around you’ve got to change the way the agency operates…the idea of being fact driven and transparent is a very different way to do business than how the agency currently operates”

    9:30 am – Jessica Rosenworcel: “Congress should have some hubris…we can’t quite dictate in the law today where technology will take us tomorrow”

    9:27 am – Cooper: Quoting Keynes, “Something is wrong here”

    9:26 am – Cooper: “[the FCC] shouldn’t be making the kind of decisions about democracy that they’ve been making”

    9:25 am – Mark Cooper: “Legislation is not the solution to any of the problems that the agency has”

    9:23 am – Jessica Rosenworcel: “Regulators look toward the past…they are better at creating stability than they are at creating an environment that fosters innovation”

    9:20 am – Phil Weiser: “The FCC was created for a very different world, where there weren’t innovators, there weren’t outside entrants…and its structure hasn’t changed”

    9:18 am – Jonathan Sallet: “We need an FCC that consciously wants to learn”

    9:16 am – Jonathan Sallet: “The focus should be on how the FCC can make innovation an input and output of its functions”

    9:14 am – Pierre DeVries: “[What’s needed is to change] the organization of the FCC to reflect what the agency is responsible for”

    9:13 am – Mike Marcus: “Section 7 was a good idea and the FCC has ignored it”

    9:10 am – First question: Do you agree with Larry Lessig’s call to dismantle the FCC and replace it with an iEPA–an innovation Environment Protection Agency”

    9:08 am – First panel, “The Future of the FCC as an Institution” begins

    9:07 am – Sohn announces the forthcoming launch of website. “We want you to feel as if you’re directly talking to the new FCC chair.”

    9:05 am – Gigi Sohn, President and Co-Founder of Public Knowledge, delivers opening remarks

    9:04 am – “The question isn’t whether the FCC should be reformed, it’s how it should be reformed.”

    9:00 am – Phil Weiser, Professor of Law at the University of Colorado, gives opening remarks