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February 24, 2010 at 5:44 PM

GSC: FCC talks about universal broadband

SAN FRANCISCO — While the Federal Communications Commission chairman proposed releasing more spectrum for wireless broadband, the director of the broadband initiative talked up the plan to technology investors here at a Goldman Sachs conference.

The audience dwindled considerably from the earlier eBay CEO keynote, as Blair Levin spoke of the need to make broadband available to all Americans, especially the low-income and senior community.

Levin said his goal is to take the Universal Service Fund, “the program that subsidizes phone service for those who can’t afford it and look at how to extend that to broadband.”

The FCC wants to make 500 megahertz of wireless spectrum available. Here is the story on the FCC announcement today.

“When we think of what may be the greatest threat to a healthy broadband system, we think [lack of wireless] spectrum could be the greatest threat,” Levin said.

In order to get the spectrum, the FCC wants to buy it from broadcast companies. “If you look at spectrum broadcasters received 60 years ago, when there was no competition, we really haven’t changed it much,” Levin said.

Some broadcast companies are reluctant to give it up, Levin said. “Sometimes I thought I was having a discussion, sometimes I thought I was having an existential debate in college where people said by suggesting we sell spectrum, you’re saying we don’t have a right to exist in the world,” he said during his Q&A session with a Goldman Sachs analyst and investors. “I talked to one CEO who said, ‘It’s not about the money.’ And I said, ‘It’s not about the money, what kind of business is this?’ ”

“We’ve gotten more people comfortable with notion that you have to pay people to move,” he said. “Even if you feel they don’t deserve the money, it’s important that you still pay them to move.”

The FCC is going to present a plan on March 16, he said.

Earlier in the day, IAC CEO Barry Diller ranted about stagnating broadband in the U.S. Diller’s Internet content businesses would benefit from more broadband penetration.

“We are so far behind. We are 16th in the world in terms of broadband strength,” he said. “Given that it is the advances the technologies that all came out of the U.S., for our footprint to be this pathetic compared to other countries far, far less developed than we are is horrible and we have to change.”

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