FierceTelecomLeaders - Blair Levin, Part 2

FierceTelecom: You've said in the past that the broadband grants and provisions of the economic stimulus package should not be confused with the full extent of the president's broadband strategy and policy. What did you mean by that and what can be expected in terms of the rest of broadband policy?

Levin: What I meant was what I said at the time. That you shouldn't confuse a piece of the puzzle with the puzzle and that you shouldn't confuse an inning of the game with the game. And what I was thinking of was, that the broadband stimulus part is a piece, and here are some other pieces of the broadband plan that I knew at the time. We proposed it. We were not unique in proposing it. Others had proposed it, but certainly the administration favored having the FCC do that study. There are a variety of other policy issues that touch on broadband deployment and adoption. There are a variety of other government programs that can be a lever that can affect broadband adoption and deployment. It's kind of how it rolls out on a variety of different fronts, rather than a single front.

FierceTelecom: I'd wager that you have a lot of institutional knowledge about the FCC. When is the last time a potential head of the FCC or the head of the FCC has had such a close relationship with the White House or with the president, and what effect do you think that will have on the FCC?

Levin: I think the answer is, probably never. You know, Newt Minow knew President Kennedy. Kevin Martin worked in the campaign of George [W.] Bush, but I don't think any of them have the kind of relationship going back to law school that Julius and President Obama have. It is certainly a useful thing, but I don't mean by that, the president calling up the FCC chair and saying, do this or do that. That's not what really goes on.

Part of the reason that it's useful is that they've talked about these issues over the years, and so there's probably some kind of meeting of the minds on it. I think it's also useful that people understand that a lot of what happens sometimes is the FCC chair will do something, and people will say, "Well, this is horrible and awful and should we go to the White House and complain about it?" It helps people say, "That would actually be counter-productive."

FierceTelecom: How much more of a stricter regulatory regime do you expect at the FCC as it relates to the telecom and wireless industries, as compared to the FCC under Kevin Martin?

Levin:  I don't think that that's the right question, with respect. You have to look at very specific issues. People say these things like, "Kevin Martin is a deregulatory Republican." Well, you know, I don't really think the cable industry felt that way about it. Or Michael Powell was a deregulatory Republican. Maybe he was on Uni-P, but maybe he wasn't on line-sharing. People said Reed [Hundt] was regulatory. But I could cite you a number of things like spectrum auctions, which are very deregulatory in nature.

I think this notion that there is some kind of consistent thread about regulation and deregulation [is off]...the question is: How do you approach the problem? Julius tends to approach problems from a very data-driven way. It's not about picking winners and losers, it's about trying to generate economic growth and other social benefits. I find the way most people look at this, it's really too simplistic. And I don't mean that in a moral sense, I mean that in a predictive sense.