Blair Levin illuminates Obama broadband policy, TIGR

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WASHINGTON - Making his first public appearance since the presidential election, telecommunications analyst and former FCC staffer Blair Levin revealed his involvement with the Obama transition team and offered first-time public comment on how the incoming administration's broadband policy is developing.  

"In thinking of broadband in the economic stimulus package, don't confuse a piece of puzzle with the puzzle," said Levin "Don't look at an inning of the baseball game as the baseball game. The Obama broadband agenda is not being done solely in the economic recovery package."

Speaking at the fifth annual "State of the Net" Conference put on by the advisory committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus, Levin was introduced as a team leader of the technology innovation and government reform group - TIGR ("Tigger") for short.

"We like to think of ourselves as bouncy-bouncy-bouncy, fun, fun, fun. We're the only one," Levin said. "There's never been a technology innovation and government reform group before."

Turning to broadband Levin said he would talk about broadband involvement in the stimulus plan in general terms, but would not address specifics on size or structure, or portion of broadband within the overall stimulus package. He's seen a lot of reports from "very reliable sources... but they're off target."  Levin said the process to develop a plan has been very iterative, trying to get the greatest idea to prevail. Secondly, reports have been confusing national broadband goals with very specific short-term needs for the economic stimulus package.

The "problem sets" for economic stimulus and public policy goals for broadband are somewhat different.

"Where are the gaps [in broadband coverage]?" Levin said. "There are gaps for the unserved. There are gaps for communities that are under-served, that don't have fiber, don't have the broadband connectivity" that enables applications. "We don't have a national broadband network for public safety.

"You don't want to do anything that makes a competitive market more difficult," Levin continued. "There's the goal of a robust competitive market in broadband."

Put together, the gaps in coverage and a goal for a robust competitive market is, "Where you start, not where you end."

Compare that to the immediate need for an economy recovery package that is "timely, targeted, temporary" and leads to lots of jobs. If the new administration wants to act in a timely fashion, it has to use existing structures to distribute money, rather than spending the time to create and develop more innovative programs. Finally, money has to be distributed in such a way as to limit waste, fraud and abuse.

Levin emphasized that, regardless of what is delivered in the economic stimulus package, incoming president Obama is serious about reaching the broadband policy goals set in his public statements.

Interestingly, Levin has been working side-by-side with TIGR co-chair and Obama's nominee for FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski. Among Washington telecom wonk insiders, Levin's name had been bandied about as a prime candidate for the FCC Chairman.  One has to wonder if the two decided who would take the job in a game of "Rock, paper, scissors" one day.

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