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IDG News Service - Blair Levin is a fellow at the Aspen Institute and was the lead author of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) controversial National Broadband Plan. He spoke with David Ramli in a telephone interview about his regrets and the rising importance of wireless over wired connections.
David Ramli: How satisfied have you been with the public's reception of the National Broadband Plan so far?
Blair Levin: I think that as we were rolling it out we should've done a better job of explaining some of the ideas behind it as opposed to simply the policy recommendations so that folks could have a better idea of where we were coming from.
The most important thing to understand is that broadband is not important in and of itself. It is important because it is the vehicle of knowledge exchange, which turns out to be an incredibly important driver of economic and job growth and critical for a civic society.
DR: The things you just described are relatively esoteric and that seems to be a problem faced by all countries trying to sell national broadband plans to their people.
BL: One of the problems we were running up against and that we should've been clearer about is that the conventional wisdom says the primary metric for measuring the validity or power of a national broadband plan is the speed of the wireline network to the most rural of residents. That way of looking at the problem is entirely wrong, is profoundly wrong -- almost every word in the sentence I just uttered is wrong. And we should've done a better job of explaining that.
DR: Why is it wrong?
BL: Number one, it's not a primary metric, it's an ecosystem. And if you think there's a single factor that measures something, you don't understand how what you want is a constantly improving platform for knowledge exchange. So you want networks, devices, applications and, most importantly, people interacting to constantly improve how they operate.
The one that's most wrong is the speed. Speed is the input and use is the output. We should be thinking about how we use it because the real upside is not in increasing speed, it's in increasing the applications.
A third thing is that it's almost always about wireline and it turns out wireless is going to be the key driver of growth in the next decade. On the institutional side, speed is incredibly important but what we found was for most of the country speeds are actually pretty good. I would say that 4G is going to end up being more important to more people over the next couple of years than increases in wireline speed.
I think people think that because going from 500Kbps to 5Mbps was so dramatically important, going from 5Mbps to 50Mbps would be just as important. Now that's not actually necessarily true and, in fact, one of the studies we did said consumers themselves understand that.
It's not about speed, it's about use; it's not about wireline, it's about the right mix of wireline and wireless; and it's not about residential, it's about different product markets. And it's not just about rural, it's about everywhere and having the right speeds for the right places. We spend a huge amount of money on 20th-century [voice] technology in rural America and that needs to be changed.