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My chat with Levin about his broadband critics, surprises

One month after finishing an epic outline of what the federal government needs to do to bring affordable broadband services to the nation, Blair Levin spoke with The Post about his critics and surprises he found along the way.

The executive director of the Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband plan is leaving the FCC to become a fellow at the Aspen Institute.He had promised one year to work on the plan, after several years as a managing director at investment firm Stifel Nicholaus. Aspen probably won't be a permanent stop for him, though he plans to spend time writing and working on a few projects for the institute.

On Friday, sitting in the lobby lounge of the Mandarin Oriental hotel near the agency, Levin said he knew he wouldn’t please everyone with the plan. Though praised by many lawmakers for its breadth, some lawmakers and consumer groups have begun to pick apart aspects of the plan. Expectations, were in some ways over the top, he said.

“This was supposed to be a compass, not an end goal,” he said.

Public interest groups said the plan isn’t bold enough on policies that would shift the competitive landscape of broadband service providers – where most consumers have a choice between just one cable and one DSL provider. Big telecom and cable firms said the plan goes overboard with policies on line sharing and television set top box reforms put many demands on them and could dampen investment.

“We knew going in that people would like about 80 percent of the ideas and really hate about 20 percent of them and that is where the focus would be,” he said.

He also defended much of the plan, which he doesn’t believe critics are viewing in totality.

“If you actually read it, everyone would find something in there that would counter their preconceived notions,” he said.

The biggest surprise from the outset was the dearth of good data on broadband connections. His team, which included dozens of consultants, assumed there would be basic data on how many homes did not have a cable or DSL passing through it. That information would give the team a number for people completely disconnected to the Web – without any access to broadband. That information was unavailable so they had to pull together information from various sources to come up with their estimate of 7 million homes.

“It was like we were starting a marathon seven miles behind,” Levin said.

The FCC is expected to name a replacement for Levin to execute on the plan’s 60-plus policy proposals.

By Cecilia Kang  |  April 19, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Broadband , FCC  
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