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FCC Reform Expected On Obama's Agenda

Key industry players and public interest groups will discuss proposed FCC reforms in managing spectrum, net neutrality, and media ownership at a January conference.

The motto of the incoming Obama administration may be "change," but the motto for the Federal Communications Commission is shaping up as "reform." Prominent Democratic communications players are scheduled to participate Jan. 5 in a program titled Reforming the FCC.

The keynote speakers will be two former chairmen of the FCC: Reed Hundt and William Kennard.

The event, to be held at the National Press Building in Washington, is sponsored by the public interest organization Public Knowledge and Silicon Flatirons, the University of Colorado's Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship.

Public Knowledge has set the stage for the conference by stating, "It is both timely and important to examine how the FCC has done its job -- and to consider how the FCC can do a better job in the future on issues such as managing spectrum, Net Neutrality, and media ownership."

As America increasingly goes online -- and online wirelessly -- at higher and higher speeds, the FCC will be faced immediately with a series of pressing issues, the first being the February switchover from analog to digital TV. While government and business interests have made elaborate preparations for the change, some observers are predicting the event will be accompanied by a tsunami of chaos as millions of Americans will be suddenly faced with their TVs going dead.

The way to the switchover was paved by the massive sale of nearly $20 billion worth of "oceanfront" 700-MHz spectrum -- most of it to AT&T and Verizon. The prime spectrum has excellent propagation features and also good in-building penetration attributes. However, a swathe of spectrum set aside for public safety usage still remains in limbo, and the FCC -- expected to take a Democratic slant -- will likely seek to see that public safety spectrum made available soon.

Silicon Flatirons asked rhetorically, "Is the Federal Communications Commission truly equipped to deal with immediate challenges that it will face? That question is being asked today by policymakers from Capitol Hill and around the country."

Additional participants and speakers will include Gigi Sohn, Public Knowledge president, and professor Phil Weiser, executive director of the Silicon Flatirons Center. Other former FCC commissioners scheduled to participate include Kathleen Abernathy and Nick Johnson.

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