FCC Chairman Extols Internet’s Distribution Opportunities for Filmmakers; Examines Impact on Journalism, Encourages Web Openness, Private Sector Alliances
By Gary Arlen
In a wide-ranging conversation that encompassed the Internet’s value to filmmakers, piracy, the future of journalism and even his own favorite movie, the nation’s top communications policy maker and enforcer offered his vision of what broadband means to the creative community.
“High-speed Internet is really our platform for 21st—century growth,” said Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski
during a Thursday conversation at the SilverDocs conference. He cited the Internet’s potential role in bringing new programming to larger audiences.
“The more people who have access to high-speed broadband, the more people who can access film online,” he said early in the hour-long conversation with Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America, East.
“The most important thing we can do with this new medium … is to make sure … the Internet is open for content creators,” he said. “Were also looking at other ideas that this world of … technologies can support.”
Genachowski focused on the FCC’s massive, visionary National Broadband Plan, unveiled three months ago, which offers an aggressive blueprint for developing wired and wireless Internet infrastructure and services. The Plan envisions near-universal access of high-speed Internet access across America.
He cited the Internet’s role in tackling health care, education, energy and other applications, including “engaging with our government and each other for civic discourse,” as top priorities identified in the Plan.
Singling out the ways in which broadband connectivity can help education, Genachowski said, “In our digital economy, kids need to have the opportunity to get these broadband skills.”
He also touched passionately on the role of “public media,” which includes the world of public TV. Noting that the sector brings “important ideas” to the conversation, Genachowski said it’s important to “Take advantage of the Internet to create more opportunities, more value.”
“We’re exploring ideas together with the public media world…to increase the role of public media as an outlet,” he added.
He also acknowledged that the response from industry and public interest organizations has been diverse.
“One extreme says, ‘Our broadband challenges will solves themselves’; the other extreme says the government need to be heavily [involved in] regulation of the broadband infrastructure,” Genachowski summarized. He pointed out that Congressional overseers recently said they would examine a revision of the Communications Act, which he called “desirable” to sort out issues, including the flap about “Network Neutrality.”
Genachowski seemed particularly at ease in chatting with Winship in front of about 150 SilverDocs’ attendees. I’ve seen him at several industry conferences in the past few months, often delivering tough messages to executives directly affected by proposed FCC regulations. On Thursday, allowed to expound on a broad array of topics, the Chairman refrained viewpoints he has offered previously, and he comfortably touched on issues, ranging from wireless technology to support from his Harvard Law School classmate Barack Obama.
Among Genachowski’s perceptions:
- Piracy: “It’s essential that we solve the piracy problem. There is nothing inconsistent about Net Neutrality with that goal. We need an Internet that is open to innovators, entrepreneurs and everyone in the audience. But it also must be open [for companies and producers] to feel it is … safe. All these issues are related.” He observed that content creators should be able to put their content online and “determine what business model [to use] to protect it from piracy.”
- Journalism: The Internet “hasn’t yet developed into a place where a lot of news gathering reporters are being economically supported, and that’s a real problem. It’s a particular problem in respect to local accountability journalism. It’s a serious one, and it’s not easy to know if we’re in the middle of a transition that will take care of itself .., [if it’s] or a more deeply rooted problem.” Genachowski said that the current controversial FCC examination of journalism seeks to identify the scope of the issue.
- Spectrum policy: Responding to my question about the plan to “reclaim” TV airwaves for use in other wireless services – and its impact on program distribution – Genachowski cited “a lot of unlocked value” from the “new technologies that provide new opportunities for broadcasters to share spectrum.” He focused on the “public media part.” “I found in my conversations with people in the public media world … there’s a lot of healthy conversation about what happens…. . More and more, there are innovators in that space who are looking at digital media. We have to find ways to support that because it won’t be cheap, and it is important.”
- Favorite movie: During the audience Q&A segment, I asked Genachowski to name his favorite film not made by his filmmaker wife Rachel Goslins (expecting him to cite a documentary). Smiling, he quickly said, the “movie version of ‘1776,’” a 1972 film based on a Broadway musical about American’s creation. Genachowski recalled the stars Ken Howard and Blythe Danner (who played Thomas and Martha Jefferson) in his politically correct entertainment choice.
- Transition: Genachowski repeatedly acknowledged that the Internet is fundamental in the overhaul of the economy, including media and entertainment. He noted that “change is constantly happening,” but the Internet shift represents a particularly major realignment. He said that in the media world, there were significant differences in the pre-cable and post-cable eras, and also in the pre- and post-Internet worlds. Now, he thinks the demarcation point between pre- and post-high-speed wireless service are of major significance. Policy-makers’ challenge is “picking the sound from the noise to figure out which changes are fundamental” in this evolution, he said.
At the end, Genachowski said he’d prefer to see business models develop and “it would be great if we could identify policies” to support the best solutions.
Then, shrugging his shoulders, he confessed, “We don’t have all the answers.”
— Gary Arlen is President of Arlen Communications