Facing a tough crowd at the Nokia (NYSE: NOK) Theater in LA this morning, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski tried to convince cablers his week-old “third way” proposal shouldn’t freak them out. responding to questions from NCTA’s Kyle McSlarrow, Genachoski said this is just the “pre-beginning” of finding the best way to deal with the fallout from the recent court decision overturning the FCCs regulation of net neutrality. Nothing that’s happened in the past few weeks “changes one iota” of our policies, goals and outcomes. But, “that court decision in the Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) case damaged the legal foundation underneath the policies.”
Several weeks of examination led to last week’s “third way” announcement trying to avoid the extremes, while creating a framework for the FCC to regulate where it believes it’s needed. That last one, of course, is what the cable companies that have invested billions in broadband infrastructure and are relying on income from that in the future.
The goal, he explained, is to put up “barriers against regulatory creep, regulatory overreach” but put the FCC back to where it was before the Comcast decision. He promised no rate regulation but McSlarrow zeroed in on the problems the cable companies have relying on the word of the FCC, especially given how tough Genachowski’s predecessor Kevin Martin was on the industry. “How do you lock this down?” Genachowski stressed that transparency would limit the need for government regulation.
McSlarrow also sought some reassurance that regulating broadband as a utility wouldn’t create an uneven playing field at a time of convergence, where companies like Google (NSDQ: GOOG) might have more freedom than the broadband ISPs. Genachowski sidestepped a bit, saying this is “about the next Google, the next eBay (NSDQ: EBAY), the next Amazon” and “making sure the consumes at home can connect to what ever’s on the internet.” (The chairman is meeting with the press later this today so will update where warranted.)
Update: At a brief press conference, Genachowski declined to answer questions about the pending Comcast-NBCU panel because it’s, well, pending, tossing out some buzzword phrasing instead: “raises real issues”, “staff work ongoing.” He also:
– dismissed the idea that cable companies have broadband monopolies. “I believe virtually every market has competition.”
– clouded the waters a tad on retransmission by saying enough issues have been raised about the way the framework is working that it needs toi be reviewed, see if it’s still the best. I missed the FCC staff session Wednesday but the LAT‘s Joe Flint did and reported that top FCC advisers said not to expect anything on retrans.