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Former FCC Official Forms Tech Policy Advisory Group

BOULDER, COLO.: Dale Hatfield, a long-time advocate of reforming spectrum policy, is forming a new voluntary Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group. Hatfield is a former chief technologist at the FCC and now an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. There, he co-authored a 2006 paper with Phil Weiser recommending spectrum policy reform. He recently testified before the House communications subcommittee on the Radio Spectrum Inventory Act, which he deemed “necessary and critical” for any reallocation scheme. Spectrum inventory bills were circulated during the last Congressional session following the FCC’s proposal to reallocate broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband. None were passed.

Hatfield’s stated intention is to bring engineers and technical experts together “to develop consensus on broadband network management practices or other related technical issues.” The group could possibly weigh in on public policy disputes, he said.

No broadcasters were included in the inaugural effort to form the group. AT&T, Cisco Systems, Comcast, Dish Network, EchoStar, Google, Intel, Level 3 Communications, Microsoft, Time Warner Cable and Verizon sent representatives to participate in the initial planning.

The Advisory Group is still incubating. Operational and organizational structure is under development, as are specific functions such as outreach, identification of best practices safe harbor issues online.

“The TAG will function as a neutral, expert technical forum and promote a greater consensus around technical practices within the Internet community,” Hatfield said. “The TAG would consider a number of factors in looking at technical practices, including whether a practice is used by others in the industry; whether alternative technical approaches are available; the impact of a technical practice on other entities; and whether a technical practice is aimed at specific content, applications or companies.”

The group’s structure is to be formalized “in the very near future,” he said.

Gigi Sohn of Washington consumer group Public Knowledge issued a verdict of cautious optimism over the formation of the group.

“We believe there is a role for advisory groups to consult on items of technical importance. Given that this advisory group is only just getting off the ground, we are cautiously optimistic that it may do some good,” she said. “However, we note that we will watch closely as the group develops policies and processes, including figuring out who is eligible to join and the process by which issues are submitted and decided. We note that the group as constituted is currently dominated by the telecommunications industry.

“In addition, we emphasize that regardless of the degree of technical expertise of this private-sector group, it is not a substitute for Federal Communications Commission rules and enforcement procedures and it certainly should not be interpreted as such by anyone.”

Hatfield and Weiser’s “Toward Property Rights in Spectrum” at the Cato Institute’s Web site.
Hatfield’s written testimony before the House subcommittee on communications is here.
-- Deborah D. McAdams