Day Two General Session – Appropriate Humility

FCC Chairman Genachowski and Michael Powell, President & CEO of NCTA speak before the Wednesday General Session at The Cable Show 2011.

Even though I was already looking forward to the Day Two General Session, featuring the one-on-one conversation between Michael Powell and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, I was surprised at how much I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Here were two men clearly at the top of their games, representing a wonderful study of both parallels and opposites: both lawyers, but with different backgrounds and political leanings; one a successful entrepreneur from the private sector now working as FCC Chairman, the other a former FCC Chairman now representing an industry launched by some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world has ever known.

As I watched the two men, I noticed how much fun each seemed to be having.  Both smiled regularly throughout; both spoke freely and rarely if ever paused to measure their words; even their respective body languages seemed to indicate that both men were being open and honest with each other – and us.

As for the content, I found that once again the notion of broadband as an agent of social and economic change ended up being the headline.  Just as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel yesterday called for the cable industry to help bridge the bridge the digital divide, Genachowski focused much of his attention on the very same subject.

He said there were three major gaps when it came to broadband: the deployment gap, the spectrum gap (today’s mobile devices are spectrum hogs, compared to the basic cell phone of yesterday), and the most critical of all gaps: the adoption gap.

Currently, only two of every three homes in America have chosen to adopt broadband. As Genachowski said, “67% is so far from good enough; we cannot be satisfied with just showing incremental change.”

He also said that full-scale adoption of broadband “will get the economy out of our hole,” noting that broadband-based Groupon added 8,000 jobs to the Chicago economy and that 80% of the Fortune 500 companies do all their job postings online – meaning that if you don’t have access to the Internet, you can’t even apply for most jobs in this country.

Genechowski said his next order of business as FCC Chair was going to be to launch a task force to explore new and innovative ways to develop public/private partnerships designed to bridge all three of the above gaps; Powell responded that the cable industry would be key partners in that effort (Fortunately, the cable industry has long focused on encouraging broadband adoption).

One last observation: I heard Mr. Powell – again, a former FCC Commissioner – say that government needs “appropriate humility” when acting on behalf of the American people.  I don’t know that he’d ever used that phrase before – I know I’d never heard him use it — but I found it so interesting and beautifully turned that I made a note of it.

As Genachowski was making a point about the FCC’s role in the shaping telecommunications policy, he referenced the very same phrase and even cited his NCTA colleague for having used it.

As noted in B&C‘s write-up of the session:

[Genachowski] said there aren’t really any “pre-cooked answers” to hard problem and that the agency needed to weigh costs and benefits that have, again to borrow from Powell as he acknowledged, “appropriate humility about what government can accomplish and what the risks are if government makes a mistake.”

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