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"A Perspective from FCC Commissioner Abernathy"

Published in "The Point",
The United States International Telecommunications Union Association Newsletter

August 2001

The United States ITU Association has had a very impressive first year and a half and I commend your efforts to create a sustained structure to support American interests in the ITU process. My spectrum management and satellite industry background have provided me with a particular appreciation for the importance of international fora to these industries. My staff and I intend to devote substantial energy to international issues generally, and the ITU processes in particular.

In evaluating international issues, as with all issues before the Commission, I focus on my five guiding regulatory principles. First, the Federal Communications Commission is a creation of Congress and must take its initial direction from the Communications Act of 1934, as amended. Our first priority must be to complete our statutory mandates effectively and on time. In this regard, I believe it is important to recognize that the Commission's role in international arena is not always clearly delineated by Congress. Although we are clearly the expert advisory agency on issues such as commercial spectrum and satellite operations, the Commission always must be mindful of the separate and distinct responsibilities of the Executive Branch, specifically the State and Commerce Departments. Therefore, the FCC should strive to act within its core competencies: as an advocate for, and an expert regarding, commercial communications interests. Nonetheless, in order for this somewhat fragmented structure to function efficiently, the FCC must form strong and open partnerships with its Executive Branch counterparts. In this regard, we are fortunate that President Bush tapped talented and dedicated leaders, Nancy Victory and David Gross, to head communications policy efforts at the Commerce Department and State Department respectively.

Just as I encourage domestic agencies to stay focused on their missions, the ITU should channel its energies towards its core responsibilities. This organization has substantial work to perform with limited resources. I recommend that member states closely examine any ITU proposals to take on additional peripheral responsibilities that may ultimately undermine the organization's ability to achieve its core mission over the long term. Although at times it may be tempting to second-guess these institutional arrangements from all sides, the American people are best served when the FCC accepts and lives within its statutorily defined limits. Similarly, such restraint productively applies to the ITU as well.

My second principle is very straightforward: I trust functioning markets more than I trust regulation. Domestically, to the extent that Congress gives the FCC discretion to act in a given context, the Commission should only intervene in the marketplace where there is clear and substantial evidence of market failure. A fully functioning market is far better at disciplining wayward competitors than a regulator ever can or will be. Moreover, markets more effectively promote technological and service innovation than do regulators. Internationally, the United States must encourage the ITU to adopt regulatory models that do not burden industry unnecessarily. Equally important, U.S. policy must facilitate global and regional harmonization, wherever viable, to enable companies to achieve the necessary scale and scope to compete in the international marketplace. Vibrant markets at home and abroad will best secure the benefits of new communications services for all Americans.

Third, I believe it is essential that the FCC remain humble in the face of tremendous domestic and international change. At home, consumer groups, states, and industry each possess vital repositories of information that the Commission needs in order to reach sound decisions. Therefore, the FCC must continually reach out to all concerned parties to make up for our knowledge deficit. Government should not hide from additional information for fear that the data may prove a given government policy "wrong" or "ineffective." We have an obligation to seek out information at every turn to ensure we get it right the first time. And if a government policy becomes outdated or has unintended consequences, we should not hide from it, but we should seek to change it. The Commission's role in the international arena should track this approach. Nations all over the globe wrestle with the same regulatory issues we do every day. We have a lot to learn and it is incumbent upon us to encourage the free flow of information so that we can benefit from one another's experiences. The United States ITU Association can serve an integral role in facilitating this consistent free flow of information across companies, constituencies, and even borders - because sound regulation best serves the public interest.

Fourth, the FCC is a service-based organization and should act accordingly. We have a responsibility to manage our resources and to maximize our effectiveness. In addition to acting within our core competencies as outlined above, the FCC must respond promptly to industry requests for action and ensure that domestic policy delay does not undercut our ability to prevail internationally. In this regard, and consistent with Ambassador Schoettler's recommendations, I also will encourage the administration to act as early as practicable to select our ambassador for WRC 2003. An early and integrated leadership structure will be essential to our success at the Conference.

Finally, we, as regulators, have an obligation to craft clear regulations and to enforce them vigorously. Clarity and diligent enforcement leads to predictability which allows the market to function most effectively. Predictability in the domestic marketplace will better secure stable regulatory relationships abroad.

The international component to each of these principles is essential to their success. Indeed, it increasingly is impossible to segregate American interests from international interests. The ITU and the U.S. ITU Association have vital roles to play in harmonizing global regulatory approaches and in facilitating the free flow of information between and among regulators, industry, and international organizations.

Thank you again for the opportunity to contribute to this issue of "The Point." I look forward to working with the U.S. ITU Association over the course of my term. To the extent that my office can be of any assistance to you or the Association, please feel free to contact me or my Senior Legal Advisor, Bryan Tramont via e-mail at BTramont@FCC.gov or by phone at 202-418-2534.