03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

CES 2010: FCC Commissioners Talk Spectrum, Wireless Competition and Becoming a 21st Century Agency

Taking place during CES 2010, the Tech Policy Summit featured a series of sessions focused on both the Federal Communications Commission's policy agenda and how the FCC, in Chairman Julius Genachowski's words, was becoming a "21st century agency."

On Friday, January 8, Chairman Genachowski sat before more than 500 CES 2010 attendees, discussing the challenges that the FCC faces in the coming years with spectrum as well as the ways in which the FCC is working to making itself adopt procedures that are "Government 2.0" in nature. On Saturday, January 9, FCC Commissioners Meredith Atwell Baker, Mignon Clyburn and Robert M. McDowell discussed the policy agenda for the FCC in this coming year, addressing concerns over the delayed national broadband plan as well as the fate of the agency's jurisdiction when it comes to network neutrality.

Spectrum Challenges Addressed

When specifically asked about tackling the spectrum issue, Chairman Genachowksi, echoed by Commissioner Atwell Baker the following day, outlined three ways in which the FCC would approach spectrum challenges over the next few years.

Find more spectrum. Chairman Genachowski described the spectrum as a limited resource, making the obvious yet somewhat unrealized point that physics places constraints on the amount of data it can carry.

Use the available spectrum in an efficient manner. Chairman Genachowski highlighted alternatives that would make its use more efficient, such as secondary licensing and more flexibility with licensing rules generally. Incentives for the private sector to use spectrum in an efficient manner were also mentioned.

Promote innovative technologies. Commissioner Atwell Baker impressed upon the audience the need for the FCC to work with technology innovators to find ways to make technology work with the spectrum challenges. This message was especially relevant with CES playing host to several sessions on critical public policy issues involving technology.

Commissioner Clyburn summed up much of the spectrum discussion by stating the common sense that needs to be behind what ever strategic plan is created to tackle the spectrum issue: "We have got to do more with less."

Wireless Competition: FCC Review of Verizon's Early Termination Fees

With the number of smartphone users in the room, the Commissioners' treatment of Verizon's increase of its early termination fees on "advanced devices" was especially relevant. The Commissioners, collectively, emphasized a consumer-based approach to dealing with the practices of various wireless providers.

FCC to Become a "21st Century Agency"

Throughout the last year, pressure has been placed on government entities to embrace policies and practices that are more Government 2.0, in this case, using technology to create a feedback loop between citizens and the agency. Chairman Genachowski was asked how he planned to get the average American involved with the FCC.

Recognizing difficulties in both communicating what impact the decisions of the FCC have and getting information in the hands of citizens in an easily digestible format, Genachowski highlighted several ways the agency would make its 21st century transition. Recently, the FCC launched a new site,, a platform that allows citizens to tell the FCC how it can better do its job and communicate with the public. Genachowski's reference to citizens as the agency's "customers" reflected his agency's commitment to being more responsive.

In several of their remarks, the Commissioners commented upon the need of the FCC to address the issues that come before it in a timely manner. Commissioner Clyburn noted that it was the Commissioner's "duty to ensure the greatest level of efficiencies," but this statement is made in the wake of a 30-day extension being granted to the FCC for the unveiling of its much anticipated Broadband Plan. Since the hearing and public comment process has been extensive, one can only hope that the concerns of consumers are indeed addressed.