Catherine Sandoval, California Public Utilities Commission.
One person mentioned as a replacement for outgoing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Julius Genachowski is Catherine Sandoval, a member of the California Public Utilities Commission and a law professor, currently teaching at U.C. Berkeley. A Silicon Valley resident, she’s taken up the telecoms portfolio on the CPUC and understands the industry from a West Coast perspective.
Sandoval would be a great choice. The FCC needs someone who’s been shaped by Californian culture, high tech and otherwise. And her resume includes a staff tour at the FCC. The question is whether she has enough traction to get the job. This vacancy is the last shot at a plum appointment for many Washington insiders who are well-connected within the Obama administration. The competition will be intense.
Of the other people talked about as Genachowski’s replacement, Larry Strickling, currently head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and Blair Levin would be the most conventional choices. Both are former FCC staffers and broadband advocates in Genachowski’s mold. The person who seems to be getting the most attention is Tom Wheeler. His bio – venture capitalist, telecoms lobbyist and Obama fundraiser – suggests the FCC would be an interesting place under his leadership.
A Republican slot on the commission is also up for grabs as Robert McDowell, a Bush appointee, leaves. Lke Wheeler, he’s a former lobbyist. No front runner has emerged. His replacement could bring in fresh thinking, but I’m not betting on it. Beltway Republicans have few opportunities to make meaningful appointments these days, and they’re likely to hand the seat to one of their own.
Among other things, Sandoval has voted to raise California broadband benchmarks above what federal agencies consider acceptable and prodded incumbent carriers to improve both technology and outreach. We can hope she gets the chance to raise standards in Washington, too.
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in San Leandro last month.
Julius Genachowski made it official this morning, stepping down as chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He’s leaving behind an agency that is arguably keeping pace with the industry it’s regulating, something few agencies or politicians in Washington can do. With the telecommunications industry increasingly shunning copper-based telephone service as it shifts to delivering broadband via wireless and fiber optic technologies, it is no small achievement.
Carriers are investing billions of dollars in wireless spectrum, infrastructure and services because they have a fair degree of confidence in the regulatory environment. That’s rare these days, and Genachowski deserves a lot of the credit.
Genachowski is an out-front advocate for fast broadband, pushing for the construction of new fiber optic networks and greater adoption of the services that ride on those systems. The FCC’s subsidy programs – particularly the Universal Service Fund – have been redirected toward broadband growth.
Commissioner Robert McDowell is also leaving. By design, the FCC has two seats set aside for each of the two major parties in Washington, with the chairman’s appointment tipping the majority toward whoever is in the White House. McDowell fills one of the Republican seats.
Once Genachowski’s and McDowell’s resignations take effect, the FCC will operate with three commissioners, Democrats Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn and Republican Ajit Pai. By all appearances, they work well together. For now, the FCC’s attention will be weighted toward the future.
Agree or disagree with their policy choices, we need forward thinking people on the commission. The telecommunications environment of 2050 will be as different from 1950 as 1950 was from 1850. In the last four years, the FCC has made the shift from 1950s telephone thinking to a twenty-first century broadband mindset. They got it right.
“It’s a wonderful thing that San Leandro is doing here, and OSIsoft and Lit San Leandro,” said Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Julius Genachowski. “You join a small but important number of communities that share your vision.”
He was delivering a keynote speech at an event last Wednesday celebrating Lit San Leandro and the partnership with the City of San Leandro that made it possible. The video from that event has been posted. You can watch the entire program here. His speech is right here:.
Fiber optic infrastructure and wireless spectrum is the way to win “the global bandwidth race” that Genachowski thinks will determine the economic winners and losers of the future. He said there’s been a big change in the percentage of the country that has access to networks that offer service of at least 100 Mbps, growing from 20% to 80% in the past four years.
“We need the U.S. to have a critical mass of business and residential subscribers for super fast Internet, one gigabit Internet,” he said. “One gig or multi-gig networks will lead to innovation that we can’t even imagine. If we build fast networks innovation will come.”
He urged local communities to adopt best broadband practices, such as “dig once” policies, where fiber optic lines are installed any time a trench is dug, for water or electric lines or any other reason. No surprise, San Leandro is already on track to do that.
“This is a model for the country,” Genachowski told San Leandro leaders. “It’s so rewarding to me personally to see what we saw here today.”
I was fortunate enough to be invited as one of the opening speakers. My assignment was to give some background on efforts in the Bay Area and around California to develop our economy by developing broadband infrastructure:
Here in the Bay Area, we are surrounded by the fattest Internet pipes on the planet. We have the world’s greatest concentration of innovative, high technology – revolutionary – talent, companies and jobs.
But we’re just getting started.
Most communities in the Bay Area, most companies and people, can’t touch those fat broadband pipes yet. That’s how it was here, in San Leandro, when the Lit San Leandro project began two years ago. The main lines of the Internet run right through the middle of town. But there was no local access, no onramp here.
Businesses struggled to get any kind of Internet access, affordable or not. Upgrading broadband infrastructure in older commercial and industrial districts is not a priority for incumbent service providers.
One of those businesses was OSIsoft. They’re here today to tell their own story, so I won’t spoil it. But Pat Kennedy saw a solution and worked with the City of San Leandro to implement it. Pat and the Lit San Leandro team made it happen. The City, though, deserves a lot of credit too. The business development team recognized the opportunity and worked across departments and with the City Council to find ways to say yes to it.
That’s the key. Recognizing the opportunity and embracing it. Part of that job is making sure that everyone’s interests are acknowledged and protected. It’s also to move ahead without getting bogged down in the process and move ahead with a clear view of the benefits for all. And that’s what the City of San Leandro did.
Thanks to some far-sighted work by legislators in Sacramento – more of that gets done than commonly recognized – the California Public Utilities Commission created a network of regional broadband consortia across the state. In just a year, those community based groups, groups that pull together public agencies, educational institutions, non-profits and private companies with capital to invest, those groups have generated dozens of new broadband projects.
The East Bay Broadband Consortium is one example. I recently worked with them to assess connectivity in this region. We developed a grading system and came up with a city by city and county by county report card. Two things stood out.
First, in most communities, businesses need help to get the broadband speed and quality at the affordable prices that our centers of high tech excellence take for granted. Whether it’s finding incentives for incumbent carriers to upgrade existing facilities, or partnering with entrepreneurs to build new gigabit fiber networks, or even dipping a toe into the municipal broadband business, cities have a vital role to play and valuable resources to offer. Not the least of which is leadership. As we have here in San Leandro.
Second, the cities with the highest grades are the ones with the deepest history of competition between telecommunications service providers. Central Contra Costa County cities scored A’s and B’s because they have three carriers that compete with each other in a number of ways, including investing in new fiber optic lines, putting private capital into upgraded broadband infrastructure.
Here in Alameda County, the cities with the highest grades are Berkeley and the City of Alameda. A private company, Sonic, has invested in building competitive broadband facilities in Berkeley. In Alameda, the city took the lead, built its own system, spurred fierce competition and stepped out of the business when the time was ripe. The infrastructure that was built by the city and its competitors is still there, still serving the residents of Alameda, still providing homes and businesses with some of the best Internet service available in the East Bay.
Other cities have followed their lead. The City of Benicia is working to turn what was a major twentieth century industrial park into a twenty first century job engine by bringing in better broadband infrastructure. In Oakland, there’s an ongoing effort to bridge the divide between businesses and homes that have superior Internet access and those that don’t.
It’s no coincidence that the best and cheapest broadband access in the Bay Area is in Palo Alto and Santa Clara. As new industries – a new economy – grew, those cities built municipal fiber optic networks. As businesses have grown and created jobs, local fiber optic networks have grown to serve them. Resulting in even more business and more jobs. We’re starting to see the same here in San Leandro. And that’s just the beginning.
Chairman Genachowski, for gigabit cities, the future is right here.