text version

The FCC in 1997: New Priorities and Future Directions

Opening Remarks of
The FCC Perspective

The Capital Hilton, Washington, DC - February 13, 1997

Thank you, Kathleen, for that generous introduction. The gracious comments are particularly gratifying because I am proud to claim you as a distinguished Quello office alumna. So I offer my congratulations to a creative, productive FCBA president, Kathy Abernathy, for her initiative and leadership that led to this ground-breaking event. This conference will be a legacy to mark her term as President. And a warm welcome to the distinguished panelists, friends, and colleagues attending this summit event.

Of course, the program schedule listed Chairman Reed Hundt for opening remarks and I'm sure he would have appreciated your attendance.

So, you really expected Reed Hundt? Tough! You got me again.

Reed is off to Geneva to conclude important trade talks. No doubt he will make the world safe for more open communications competition and he will probably impose new public interest requirements on nations attending the World Trade Organization meetings. Reed, a formidable litigation attorney, is a real tough negotiator.

World trade is one of a broad range of important topics for this signal conference. You and your co-Chairs and Advisory Board have attracted the best and brightest thinkers as speakers and panelists. It certainly is true of the FCC representation.

You may have read in Electronic Media this week that I was asked a potentially insolent question: what I thought of Bureau Chiefs now being paid more than Commissioners. I simply responded they should be, because they know more than we do. We need their knowledgeable and detailed input to vote responsibly. You will hear from some of them today in addition to respected telecommunications experts in the private sector.

This unique event marks the first time that the FCC has ever co-sponsored a conference. The FCC has worked with our stellar co-sponsors -- the Federal Communications Bar Association and the Georgetown University Law Center -- to assemble a timely and provocative series of panels to examine the regulatory environment for communications as we enter the Information Age.

Naturally, the priorities and direction of the Federal Communications Commission are subjects that have received a good deal of my time and attention for the past (almost) twenty-three years. Although I have announced my intention not to seek reappointment to a fifth term, I can assure you that I do not plan to "retire" from what has been my life-long interest in communications. I hope to remain active as an academic lecturer and communications consultant as we see the dawn of an exciting new millennium. The future of communications is here -- and I am energized by planning to remain a part of it.

I have been privileged during the past twenty-three years to have played an active role in the birth of many new communications services too lengthy to list on this occasion. Mobile communications services, for example, were still but a gleam in the eyes of science fiction visionaries when I took office April 30, 1974. Today, communications devices have been freed from the tether of location dependence and are widely available. They now move with us rather than tieing us to one place. Mobile communications devices, in all their various forms, are transforming the way we do business and conduct our personal lives.

We have also witnessed a revolution in traditional communications industries such as my "first love," broadcasting. The digital age is the coming next phase of free over-the-air television.

This "brave new world" presents many challenges for administrative bodies that regulate communications services. We all know that bureaucracies are not, by their nature, efficient and are often institutionally resistant to change. The FCC, however, is committed to streamlining our processes and refraining from regulating where competition has taken hold.

I have often reiterated my belief that the Commission must move expeditiously to complete the administrative processes that lead to the establishment of ever-more innovative communications services. The public interest is served best by having early access to an array of lower-cost, ubiquitous, communications services provided by competing entities vying for the consumer's attention and money.

Congress has given us many new regulatory tools. We are celebrating the one year anniversary of the landmark Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996. There are sweeping changes incorporated into the Act that affect all of the industries under our jurisdiction. Competition is the touchstone.

Some have been heard to declare that the Telecom Reform has not yet fostered competition among cable, wired voice telephone, wireless services and broadcast television. But as a former broadcaster, I take a longer view. Remember, the first TV broadcasters lost their shirts for the first four or five years. New competitive services usually do not gain immediate acceptance or profitability. The sweeping rule changes must be given time to take effect.

In the future, the goal of more reasonable rates, more options, and better service for consumers will be achieved by additional competitive services outlined by the Act. Establishing the regulatory framework, while implementing a new licensing procedure -- auctions -- mandated by Congress, for major new communications industries is a complex and time-consuming task. The Commission staff has valiantly met the challenge.

When I arrived at the Commission, I was told that the time span between conceptualization of a new communications service and arrival on the market was almost six years. In 1997, that time span has been reduced to less than eighteen months. De-regulation -- removing old regulatory restrictions crafted in a different time for a different stage in communications development -- must keep pace with technological innovation.

Is every decision "perfect"? No! But I have never believed that there is such a thing as a "perfect" regulatory policy. In our respected democratic form of government, policy is made by majority rule of the decision makers

entrusted with the responsibility of searching for the overall public interest. We Commissioners share the vision of a robust competitive communications industry that will benefit the American people in the very near future. This program today is an important informational step in assessing that vision and planning for the future. We must, however, take a measured approach. As I once told a previous FCC Chairman, in a phrase that has since gained more immediacy, "I do deregulation; I don't do anarchy."

I want to thank my fellow Commissioners for their invaluable contributions. I wish to commend the extraordinary efforts of the Commission staff and reassure you that we are keenly interested in your assessment of how we are doing and how we should do it in this new digital, mobile, broadband global communications environment.

So, it is my privilege as Senior Commissioner, to represent the FCC today in initiating this historic new program. On that note, and for the benefit of all, let the discussions of New Priorities and Future Directions begin!