October 24, 2014 - 11:24 am
By Tom Wheeler | FCC Chairman

Every four years, the International Telecommunication Union holds a Plenipotentiary Conference to address the strategic direction of the ITU on telecommunications issues. I have just spent several days in Busan, Korea at this year's conference, working side by side with other USG officials, including head of delegation Ambassador Danny Sepulveda from the State Department, Assistant Secretary Larry Strickling from NTIA, Assistant Secretary Andy Ozment from DHS, and my colleague from the FCC, Commissioner Mike O'Rielly.

Together, we held a series of bilateral meetings with delegations from other countries on the important work of the conference, seeking to ensure the international community helps to provide development and capacity-building assistance to countries on important issues like infrastructure deployment and cybersecurity. Regulatory issues were hot topics in many of these meetings, as well as in a number of FCC bilateral meetings with our counterparts from independent regulators and telecom ministries.

I came away from these meetings with a few key points.  First, virtually every regulator emphasized how important it is to get broadband to rural and remote areas of their countries - to promote economic development, education and effective healthcare.  Not just connectivity, but broadband. They understand that broadband access can unlock the potential for individuals to prosper in their local communities instead of migrating to urban centers in search of a better quality of life.

While we may be at different stages along the path to enabling broadband access for those in rural areas, the challenges they described sounded all too familiar. As we focus on empowering people in rural America by enabling affordable access to broadband, we will at the same time be a case study and a shared experience that will be of interest to many countries around the world thinking about broadband deployment.

A second shared challenge is the difficulty of freeing spectrum for more efficient uses. African countries, for example, are facing a 2015 deadline for their DTV transition, and we had several lively conversations on the "lessons learned" from our experience just a few years ago. In addition, other countries are debating how best to conduct spectrum auctions, and have been following our auctions activities closely. We discussed not only auctions methodologies, but also how best to strike that delicate balance between licensed and unlicensed spectrum.

And third, every session included a spirited discussion about the challenges regulators face as they grapple with  regulatory frameworks from a circuit-switched world trying to keep up with a fast-evolving IP environment. Suffice it to say there was a lot of interest in the tech transitions activities underway at the FCC.

Discussing shared goals and comparing problem-solving approaches has a way of focusing attention on the similarities between the challenges we and other regulators both face. It's clear that other countries are following how the FCC tackles these challenges closely; they monitor our proceedings and study our orders. This just underscores the importance of getting our policies right - the decisions we make matter not just for U.S. consumers, but set a standard for policy makers worldwide.