AT CTIA, FCC Chief Plays the Good Cop

jg1FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski appreciates the wireless industry and plans to help it get access to more spectrum, to make the process of siting mobile towers faster and to roll out faster middle-mile connections in rural and urban areas, all in an effort to improve the delivery of mobile broadband, he said today at the CTIA industry conference in San Diego. CTIA is the wireless industry’s lobbying group, and counts among its members everyone from carriers and device makers to Google (s goog).

After Genachowski’s speech last month in which he announced his plans to regulate the industry by codifying a net neutrality framework that would keep carriers from blocking certain types of traffic on their wired and wireless networks, the industry has been on the defensive. Today, he played the role of good cop, praising the industry for the services that it offers, and acknowledging the very real issues of inadequate spectrum. He also promised, “a shot-clock proposal designed to speed the [tower-siting] process, while taking into account the legitimate concerns of local authorities.”

As to other FCC initiatives, he said:

  • We’ll act promptly to process license and other requests to keep 4G roll-outs on track.
  • We’ll do our part to help clear spectrum that has already been allocated and licensed for 4G.
  • We’ll address roaming in a broadband world.
  • And we will look for ways to accelerate the rollout of high-capacity middle mile connections in both rural and urban areas.

But even a good cop is still a cop, a role that Genchowski reminded the carriers of as he moved to explain his attention to network neutrality, competition and dedication to offering consumers more transparency in customer billing. He tried to paint the net neutrality efforts as an attempt to codify long-standing — and bipartisan — principles that have governed the industry since 2005, while assuring carriers that he is aware of their fears, saying:

Communications technologies are complex and changing rapidly, nowhere more than mobile, and my time in business has convinced me that the last thing we want is heavy-handed and prescriptive regulation. Our goal is to empower innovators, not lawyers.

In looking at wired and wireless Internet access, some have said that “one size doesn’t fit all.” I agree. We know from experience at the FCC that there are real and relevant differences between wired and wireless. Mobile poses unique congestion issues, for example. Managing a wireless network isn’t the same as managing a fiber network, and what constitutes reasonable network management will appropriately reflect that difference.

As expected, the CTIA praised his comments on tower siting and spectrum, but said nothing about his focus on consumer transparency and network neutrality. Possibly because it has said pretty much everything about net neutrality that it plans to say until the FCC’s Oct. 22 open meeting kicks off the formal rulemaking process.