FCC Chairman Reveals Broadband Plan Elements To CMA

(L-R) CMA Board President Steve Buchanan; KKGO Senior Programmer Charlie Cook; FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski; CMA Board Chairman Steve Moore; EMI Music EVP/GM; and KILT Program Director Jeff Garrison.

The FCC’s long-awaited National Broadband Plan is due to be revealed next Tuesday (3/16) then presented to Congress the following day. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, nominated by President Barack Obama and sworn into office on June 29, 2009, met with Country Music Association Board members in Washington DC at the Capitol Building 3/10.

Genachowski has spent over 10 years working in the technology industry as an executive and entrepreneur. His bio describes him as “active at the intersection of social responsibility and the marketplace.” The following transcription has been edited for space, but gives a studied look inside the upcoming plan. Content owners will be pleased to see the Chairmanis a proponent of IP rights.

Edited text from Julius Genachowski while addressing the CMA
People who still think of country music as some niche industry apart from the American mainstream haven’t been paying attention for a long, long time. You’ve got Taylor Swift selling more albums than any artist in America last year and selling out Madison Square garden in one minute. American idol is perhaps the ultimate arbiter of popular culture in America and Carrie Underwood won on that show by an overwhelming margin and has gone on to sell more albums than any other winner. When Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination in Denver what song did they play? Brooks and Dunn’s “Only In America.” And the same song was played when President Bush accepted the Republican nomination in 2004. Now that is broad appeal.

Not to say that the country music industry doesn’t have unique issues and interests, but at the end of the day policies that will grow our economy will also help grow your industry. Actions that expand real opportunity are good for all Americans no matter what music you listen to. And few actions will do more to grow our economy and expand opportunity than building a world class broadband infrastructure here in the United States.

The plan that we will be announcing next week is intended to get broadband deployed to unserved households around the nation over the next several years through a reform of the Universal Services fund and other initiatives.

In addition to deployment—getting broadband to places that just don’t have it at all—another part of the problem is adoption, use of broadband. 42% of core country music fans who are not online also say they have no desire to remedy the situation according to recent research from the CMA. This dovetails with recent findings by the FCCs broadband team regarding non adopters. Relevance is a key factor cited by people who don’t subscribe to high speed Internet access. They just aren’t aware yet of the benefits, whether it’s music, employment opportunities or health information. They don’t see what the Internet can do for them or why it is a service they should subscribe to.

Yesterday the FCC together with the Knight Foundation co-hosted a summit on digital inclusion in Washington to focus on affordability and adoption issues around broadband. We announced several initiatives in our plan including a digital literacy corp and other efforts to help people get online and realize the benefits that broadband can bring.

The group Lady Antebellum owes its existence to the Internet. Members met on Myspace. Lady A, a younger group, draws 28% of its revenue from digital sales (closer to 10% for older artists), which says something about future direction. Country stars are harnessing the high tech tools of today to reach their audience. For example, country’s hottest star Taylor Swift has 2.8 million twitter followers. So what will the national broadband plan mean for this marketplace of artists, radio station owners, Internet entrepreneurs and music lovers?

Broadband is our generation’s major infrastructure challenge. It is like roads, canals, railroads and telephones were for previous generations. In terms of transformative power, broadband is most akin to the advent of electricity. Our electric grid was a platform for innovation that as much as anything helped propel the US to global economic leadership in the 20th century. Think about your industry without electricity.

Electricity brought the country an unending array of new appliances— refrigerators, radios, ovens, TVs and computers. Broadband brings innovation-fueled applications. Even modest increases in broadband adoption can yield hundreds of thousands of new jobs and economic activity.

As we pursue broadband networks that deliver broad opportunity and prosperity we believe in the complementary goals of preserving freedom on the Internet and protecting the intellectual property rights of creative artists and other content owners. The national broadband plan is not self-executed, it’s a strategic blueprint for action. It will require subsequent public processes to implement. And the delivery of the plan is not the end, but actually the beginning of the next stage of our process. As we proceed I want you all to know that my door is open and we welcome the input from everyone in this room as we tackle the challenges ahead.

As we roll out the next generation of the Internet we need to do it in a way that is both open and safe and secure for businesses especially for IP owners who need to get on the Internet in order to profit from the new technologies, but of course we have to do it in a way that doesn’t lead to all the content being stolen. And I think what you will see in the plan is an identification of some of those issues and a desire to work together to make sure our broadband infrastructure promotes broad opportunity, broad prosperity and we understand that protecting one of our precious resources, our intellectual property in this country, has to be a part of that.

With respect to deployment via wired and/or wireless access, the plan will be technologically neutral. We need to lead the world in both wired and wireless broadband. They each provide services the other can’t provide. If a loved one gets into an accident somewhere on a country road we want the EMT to have a broadband connection to the emergency room, it will save lives, but wired broadband can’t do that. At the same time, the amount of capacity that you can get in a fixed, wired location will always be more than wireless, so we need to promote investment in both. Even though there are physical constraints that will keep wireless speed below fiber, the speed that we will be able to get in the next few years with wireless will be faster than the wired speeds we have now. And so it is part of a plan to make sure that rural America gets broadband. We are hopeful, notwithstanding the differences, that wired and wireless will exert competitive pressure on each other which will be good for American consumers and businesses that want to compete on the Internet. We are certainly going to be speaking both about setting ambitious speed and deployment goals for the country around broadband which will chiefly be achieved through wires, but also by unleashing spectrum so that the U.S. can be the center of innovation in mobile broadband which represents a tremendous opportunity for the country over the next ten years.


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David M. Ross has been covering Nashville's music industry for over 25 years. [email protected]

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