Report of FCC Chicago "Field Hearing" on broadband and small business

Posted by Mitchell - December 28, 2009 (entry 635)

About fifty people attended a "field hearing" organized by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at the University of Chicago's Gleacher Center in downtown Chicago on Monday, December 21, 2009. The announced topic of the "field hearing" was "focusing on how broadband technology can help small businesses spur growth and reach new markets", and was part of a series of hearings convened by the FCC to gather public input for its upcoming National Broadband Plan. Several of those attending the hearing were noted media activists.

The FCC's announcement of the hearing -- made just seven days in advance -- included the following announcement: "The public is encouraged to attend and participate." However, the FCC didn't accept public comment in open hearing, but rather simply requested attendees to submit questions on comment cards that the agency made available and which FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (the lone FCC commissioner who attended) chose to ask. What questions were written and submitted were promised to get included in the record and made available publicly. Only four questions were actually asked in open forum in the two hours of the "field hearing"; no time was made available for public comment unlike in other past FCC hearings.

The "field hearing" consisted of two panels, each with five panelists who each spoke for about five minutes, with a "questions and discussion" period following each panel. The panels were entitled "Small Business Needs" and "Broadband and Small Business", and the panelists were decided by the FCC beforehand. Some highlights of the panelists:

* Norma Reyes, Commissioner of the City of Chicago's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection and the first panelist who spoke, lauded a recent initiative that Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley had announced on the same day as the hearing, where Daley highlighted an initiative to bring wireless internet access to Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood, as one of five neighborhoods designated as "digital excellence demonstration communities". (Despite this ostensible support for a community initiative, Reyes testified a year earlier against a separate ordinance to help Chicago's CAN TV fleet of public access stations.)

* Matthew Guilford, Program Manager of the City of Chicago's Department of Innovation and Technology, highlighted the plight that many Chicagoans have regarding lack of internet access and digital literacy skills. One statistic that Guilford mentioned to highlight the plight: 20% of Chicagoans do not know what broadband access they have.

* Gordon Quinn, artistic director of Kartemquin Films, emphasized a number of specific policy concerns including net neutrality and universal service, that the FCC should take to heart in crafting its National Broadband Plan. Quinn also highlighted the work in Chicago that helped make public access cable television happen in Chicago, and mentioned that the policy lessons from that fight should also go into the National Broadband Plan. (Quinn's speech was the only presentation which earned applause from the audience.)

The full list of panelists and remarks, along with archived video which the FCC streamed on its website, is promised to be made available on the website for the National Broadband Plan:

Chicago's CAN TV also recorded the event for its Community Partners series.

The FCC has until February 17th to deliver its National Broadband Plan to Congress, though a sneak peek of the National Broadband Plan that has already been leaked to select parties, as Ars Technica discussed in the week prior to Chicago "field hearing":

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