Michael K. Powell Fireside Chat
4:48PM Jan 27, 2021
united states senate
estimates etc. Next,
Thanks Marina Thanks
Matt. So, so, to transition seamlessly into the next, I just want to introduce the person who's going to facilitate our keynote, our signature keynote for lunch. Clint Odom is, is the Senior Vice President at the National Urban League, I think. National Urban League was mentioned, over the course of the last few panels. And anybody that works in telecom and internet policy in Washington knows who Clint is. He's been with the National League for a couple of years now but previously he worked for people who you may have heard of. He was legislative director for Kamala Harris. In the United States Senate, as well as working with the Senate Commerce Committee, and before that he also worked for somebody who might recognize who's the acting chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Jessica rosenworcel, so let me just, let me just hand it off to Declan to do our signature keynote today.
Grinch. Thank you very much, Tim and I certainly appreciate the fact that I've had a long history in in this town but we don't have to go into great detail about exactly how long I'm about to introduce to someone that we've all been waiting to hear from for some time, my dear friend Michael Capel, who is the president and chief executive officer of ncta, the internet and television Association. And so we're going to get just right into this discussion in the green room iPhone I've had a chance to catch up so we're not going to bore you with, with our, our heydays from from 20 years ago but Mr Chairman, thank you so much for being here with us today.
It's great to see your clan Thank you for having me.
Absolutely. Well, you know, many Americans described 2020 as in the history books or somehow behind us, but it really isn't. The covid 19 pandemic is still raging and, and millions of Americans remain out of work and struggling. We recently witnessed a deadly insurrection at the United States Capitol this month. And despite the broadening of the coalition that powers the social justice movement that has really captured the imagination of the American public since George Floyd's murder. We continue to suffer the loss of black lives at nearly the same numbers in 2020, as we saw in 2019. So over the years, but especially the last two you've spoken so eloquently about the need for business leaders to stand and to stand for their black employees and to stand for their black customers to push back against racism. What are the challenges that you see for the country writ large post January 6.
Oh, that's a challenging question you know there's a Buddhist proverb I'm fond of which says everyone you see is suffering. And I think it's a statement of humility to recognize the concerns of your fellow citizens but no time Have I ever experienced such a perfect storm of such widespread challenge and suffering, we have a global pandemic. We have economic harm, and we have the continuing unfinished problems of racial strife in America, all of which I think are the focus of business and the focus of policy leakers rightfully. And if you were to add to that we have a fraying democracy who whose repair is essentially critical to addressing any of the other challenges that we're facing so you know to, to quote that wonderful young poet laureate Amanda Gorman you know the hill we climb is high. And I think it's important as we talked about the internet and its outsized role and its outsized responsibilities in this moment is important. Clearly, it's also, it's part of the negative as well as the positive. I mean I think the society will have very very challenging and difficult questions over the coming years about degree to which the platforms contribute to the negativity that we're trying to reconcile. You know the founding fathers were concerned, principally about mobs factions and autocrats, and they were really thoughtful about that and needing to design checks and balances for the system they were putting in place and I fear that we didn't give enough consideration to those risks when we designed the technological platforms that so many of us interact with today and now we're playing, kind of a degree of catch up to address that, which will be challenging. On the positive, you know, not only has technology come to the rescue. I don't think we would have as an effective response, or even be in a position to respond to the health and economic crisis without the ability to hand public health officials the ability to keep, keep Americans home from work. That's a result of years of investment and enlightened policy around broadband deployment. I think we can be proud that the network held up to that challenge. Many in our industry work really hard to keep Americans connected. And I think it shined a bright bright light on the continuing unfinished work of getting low income citizens on the network. And to help our students who who really are going through a horrendous time trying to adapt to the remote learning challenges that I know in the former panelists were talking about so it is a very high hill to climb. I think we all have a social responsibility to do so not just a commercial responsibility to do so. And I know that's going to be the focus of a lot of our work as we go into 2021,
Michael, you may have been a little modest in describing the roles of the broadband industry has played during this pandemic. In fact that the industry has been a central figure to powering during the pandemic and it's going to be very important, obviously to its recovery. You know we've been involved in these debates for many years over whether broadband is essential, and necessity a nicety, or even a civil right but but no one can discount, the importance and the industry's commitment that you refer to it has been really laudable to keep people connected to the internet. And, and, and has been rightfully praised but but can't continue in perpetuity ad hoc congressional responses to keep Americans connected are their ad hoc. We have a near evenly split, Congress, and a new administration focused on COVID relief and an economic recovery. Where is the cable broadband industry going to be focused in 2021. And are you concerned that some of these secular trends that I've described could stall the industry's strong growth performance. In the next few quarters or out further in the future.
You know what to start maybe where you began planned. You know I'm somewhat humored by which adjectives we choose to describe the essential nature of the internet but needless to say it's it's highly critical and important to many of our ambitions as a country, and in resolving the most profound harms facing our country so I can tell you in our industry and our CEOs fully embrace the centrality and the importance of the service they work hard to provide toward greater ends than just commercial success and I think that's important. You know, unfortunately policy sometimes collapses importance with loaded concepts like utility, you know, somehow importance equals utility but there are many many important things in the world that are not utilities and are effectively harnessed for the public good without some of the onerous past that utility language suggests but. So putting that aside, I mean I think one of the things we've talked about as an industry I remember very clearly on March 13 when we locked down. And in the following weeks we had calls with the CEOs and, and I was less than melodramatic in saying to the, to the industry that, not unlike Churchill on the eve of London bombings this needs to be your finest hour. This needs to be the moment where you're not quibbling or renegotiating or debating about the importance of helping keep our society connected we have to we have to run to the challenges aggressively as we can. And while we were not perfect. I think we did a lot more than some people expect to be good and I think we were proud of what we were able to help the country through. And I think that that spirit, we're going to carry forward into 2021. I think we're going to do well in the markets because we're going to do well by doing good. I mean at our core we're in the connection business. And it's it's essential that we not fear a robust policy discussion about getting more people connected. This should be a universally shared goal. It should avoid partisanship, and it should avoid the tiresome categorizations of corporations as adversarial to the interests of the public good which too often dominate these conversations, if we can't find a way to be in partnership in communion with the government and the private sector to solve these problems I assure you they won't be solved we'll be talking about this again and three years and five years and 10 years. But the moment presents itself and I think we, we want to step up to that. I also think that we, we are a product of really smart decisions you know our networks get built built basically 18 to two years ahead of demand. Those kinds of engineering choices is why the network could perform so well in a crisis that accelerated that demand, we were already ahead of that curve. And we're trying to get ahead of that curve for what we think is the next great generation of infrastructure, you hear a lot of the wireless industry talk about 5g, which I think is really important that the country needs both the fixed network and the wireless network to really go to a new generation of capacity and capability. And for us we for us that's 10 G, which is building toward a network that will have 10 gigabit capacity for all Americans not some is all of them. Ultimately, and so our industry is continuing to follow the journey that it set out last year, toward that goal. We've already reached gigabit speeds, and basically our entire footprint, more or less, and we're quickly moving toward accelerating to greater speeds I think that's going to be our focus in business and infrastructure construction. And I think we're going to be a willing partner and daresay leader in conversations about how to get more of our citizens on the product we build in a safe and effective way.
Just as an add on to this question. The relationship between wireless and cable, you know, has been variously characterized as competitive, you know, collaborative, you know there have been some great partnerships that have come out of these two industries, especially with, with respect to bundling services. Do you believe that this will continue as a collaborative arrangement in the era of 5g or do you think that there will be a divergence and more intense competition between these these two segments of the broadband industry.
Well, there certainly will be reinvigorated competitive animal spirits, which I think is good. Um, you know I continue to be frustrated that we tend to talk about these two networks in silos. Eventually under FCC policy today they don't recognize wireless as a competitive alternative of broadband service which is flabbergasting to me when it when it's inconsistent with the way consumers actually use the internet. And if there was ever any doubt about it. I think the speeds and capabilities of 5g put that to rest. And certainly the industry is promoting its vision of being a competitive alternative to fix network, to some degree, so we have to recognize that, it'll be reinvigorated competition which I think is positive. At the same time, the word I like to use Clint is symbiotic I think people sometimes think these networks, somehow are entirely different that they are mutually interdependent and largely can't survive without the other. You know, a very high percentage of wireless traffic is put into the ground very quickly, vast majority of wireless traffic at home goes through Wi Fi which then goes over fixed networks. They need each other in an essential way and I think healthy policy would stop treating them kind of incongruent Lee as separate but would understand that the nation's goal is a symbiotic seamless network of high capability. You know, our citizens our neighbors, our friends, our children don't want to and don't care about the difference of the network's, they want to seamlessly move back and forth between one and the other without having to give much for thought to logging out and signing back on and switching and and being cognizant, and in fact we have a degree of that right now most people who are on Wi Fi on their phones that don't really give any thought to whether they're on a fixed network or they're on or they're on their cell service. And I think that's something we want to have them have greater simplicity, less transaction costs from moving from network to network. So I think policy has a way to go to harmonize the way it looks at networks and its network ambitions to see these things as an integrated whole, and to allow them to compete but understand their symbiotic for the national interest, and we would be lesser of a country if we get to 10 G and there's no 5g. And I think we would be lesser if we got the 5g without 10 G. We need policies that encourage the inner to grow the both of them. And if we do that, I think we're going to be proud of what we have and in the next five to 10 years. If we don't, we could create the same kind of balkanized kind of stove pipe that the 1996 x still represents which I think creates lots of unnecessary hurdles,
all the references to GS made made me think of low income, Americans right now who are suffering and the fact that they need to G right now. In the COVID relief bill so let's hope that that doesn't stall in the United States Senate onto one of our favorite topics Mr Chairman, the Federal Communications Commission. You serve nearly eight years on the commission over two different presidential administrations, I believe, to my goodness it might have been might have been more. But the current FCC is deadlocked with four to four with our friend Chairwoman Jessica rosenworcel, serving. No doubt deals could approach this commission. Major rulemakings and remands could reach the commission, this year. What advice would you offer to your former colleague said the FCC as as how they should operate in this divided state. And even after the commission is functioning at full strength.
Well, first of all I would like to publicly congratulate Jessica rosenworcel, on becoming acting, Chairwoman she has been in the space a long time. I haven't tried to hire her once when I was chairing the FCC, she thought better of it I wish I had convinced her. But I've watched her career for a long time. And I'm excited about her, her leadership. I think the thing that I would say Clint, you know, I had brief periods where there was two two, or we had to two because somebody was recused. I think the greatest advice I could give is that this is a special moment, not, not a moment of of difficulty but a moment of opportunity because it is the moment you can work on building a bipartisan relationship with each other. This is a moment where both of your various constituencies recognize there's a deadlock and so the pressures are less on you than they might be if you had a clear unflinching minority majority, and it's a real precious opportunity to build deeper relationships with your colleagues, recognize the mutual dependence of each other, and actually try to build those bonds and nurture them for tougher issues to come down the line. While you have the luxury of the situation. Um, I think it is a mistake to just sit back and say well we won't do anything until we get more commissioners, that's a politicized response. I think the judicious response of an expert agency should be. We will just work harder to get bipartisan consensus to do things. And rather than sort of be on hiatus for the next two months. Let's try to do something together. And I think that could be a kind of first step toward toward a healthy and functioning commission, who has really grave issues to address so that would be my advice. I think there's been a trend of politicizing the FCC over the decades since I was there that I regret I don't think it's healthy, I think it's independent for a reason. I think it's technocratic for a reason. And I think they are at their best when they're acting more as jurists than many politicians. And I would hope that they would try to set a new tone along those lines. And I think that they will serve themselves well and the public they serve if they do.
Well I hope your words, you know land. One of the things that I remember from the time we serve together at the commission was that you were very much, even as a commissioner, someone who always would push back when the agency seem to be veering into political realm so your, your fierce defense of the independence of the agency was on full display, even before you ascended to the chairmanship. But I mean, in some ways, even if it's late and the Commission has begun to reflect the polarization that we've seen in the Senate and the Congress that sends these people, you know, to the agency. You know you were appointed by a democratic democratic president and a republican president. The, the, there are folks who may share that history with you, but they aren't behaving necessarily with the same type of independence that we saw, you know, in the in the early part of this century, especially during during your chairmanship and later. How do we get, how do we get back to that.
Well you know plan I think about this a little bit like where you started our conversation about the stunning events of the summer. In the wake of George Floyd's murder and I don't think as a citizen, as a human being, I've ever felt more pain in my adult life than I did. and in that, in those summer months. But one of the things that emerged from it was a reframing sometimes referred to as anti racism, sometimes described more around systematic racism. One thing that I thought was positive that sort of got expelled forward is the sense that this is everybody's responsibility. This is every institution's responsibility. This is every citizens responsibility, they have to own their own universe of influence and the way that it contributes to the lack of progress on the unfinished work of this country to live up to its creed, and, and, and we just had an attack on the United States Capitol and I would say the same thing should be expelled from that experience which is every single one of us has a responsibility to diffuse the kind of vicious partisanship that has taken us to where we are. And maybe it doesn't seem like that if you're just a commissioner at the FCC but of course it does. We all can either contribute to the divisions and the polarization or we can all choose to stand and contribute to doing it a different way to disagree, respectfully, to look for that common ground, to not demonize to not, you know, pick up shallow issues because your base will like it, but it isn't good policy. If independence means anything to the commission they should wrap themselves up in that privilege as forcefully as they can. And and sort of stand against that tendency to believe that, hey, I'm actually a junior Congress person with a constituency No you're not. You're not elected by any people. You're appointed and granted a very special regulatory model in order to act solely in the public interest without malice to anyone. And so, I guess I'll just leave it there. If we're all supposed to be anti racist, then I think we all are supposed to understand our responsibility in a world of divisiveness and stop and do everything in our zone of influence to stop it. That's Democrat and Republican alike. And I think the President to his great credit struck that tone of unification in the beautiful remarks during inauguration and I hope we all really don't forget it and live by it. That, that's the best I think we can do as human beings,
Michael I know we're wrapping. Pretty soon, but I just want to say as someone who's known you for a long time and knowing your family. Know your mother grew up in Alabama and knew the little girls at the at the 16th Street Baptist church who were killed. You know your father and his long career in the military, had to face horrendous challenges around racism and you are a wonderful product of those two people. And, and I just appreciate the. The statesmanship, and the eloquence with which you talk about these issues. I don't know if you want to break any news here. Mr. Chairman, about your future plans to run for the United States Senate or congress but we're, we're all ears. You know there's some, there's some Pac people on on online, I can see among the participants. We want to know it's going to happen this year.
I'm just a cable guy that's all I am right now.
Thank you, though,
this is this has been a lot of fun and, and I hope that the friends out there watching, I can appreciate what what a special person you are, and what special time this is, and the events that seem exotic and as to our business are not as you've said justice is the business of business. And, and I hope, I hope people take that and those words to heart. Thank you very much.
Thank you for having me.
Tim we handing it back to you, my friend.
When Thank you so much, that was a it was a great, great discussion My only regret is that the chairman didn't answer in the affirmative that he was running.
thank you so much for doing that that was a great discussion. That was a great morning of content so I really appreciate it Clint. So for right now, um, we're gonna break for lunch and while we break.