One year later: MCNC’s Mark Johnson reflects on BDAC

By Mark Johnson, Chief Technology Strategist

Mark Johnson - Chief Technology Strategist, MCNCThe FCC Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) recently held a meeting of the full committee in Washington, D.C. In addition to the primary committee, there are a number of working groups. I represent the R&E networking community via The Quilt on one of the working groups.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced the formation of the BDAC on Jan. 31, 2017.  Committee members were given two years to make recommendations to the FCC for improving the deployment of broadband Internet access in the United States.

From my point of view, the nature of this committee is that something approaching a consensus is needed to make any formal recommendation, which to me really means nothing dramatic will probably ever be recommended. While membership on BDAC and the working groups includes a variety of stakeholders (it ranges from large carriers like AT&T and Verizon, to municipalities and local governments, to consumer-advocacy groups) not every participant has the same resources or experience.

My subcommittee, Removing State and Local Regulatory Barriers, delivered its recommendations to the full BDAC on Jan. 23-24. All of our recommendations were adopted by the full committee.

To get to these recommendations, we first reviewed all formal comments made to the FCC citing barriers to deployment. Those were then classified into a few categories, analyzed and discussed to get to our final recommendations. Large ISPs clearly liked the idea of the FCC preempting state and local rules, and there was plenty of debate in our group on that subject. In the end, we noted preemption was a tool, but more of a last resort.

The next day following our meeting, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo resigned from the BDAC, citing its lack of progress and that it was a group that seemed to be working for the interests of the telecom industry and not the public. Read the full story in The San Jose Mercury News. Mayor Liccardo was in our group but was nearly always represented by someone from his staff for our subgroup meetings.

In a way, the BDAC does feel weighted towards carriers. I think the committee feels that way in part because carrier members come with teams of lawyers well-versed in the minutia of telecom regulation and ready to advocate for their positions. Others, like myself, are lone individuals who understand issues important to deploying broadband but can't apply the same amount of resources nor do we have the same experience arguing for specific outcomes on contentious issues.

FCC Commissioners Mignon L. Clyburn  and Brendan Carr both made appearances at our last meeting, where they each made brief remarks. Commissioner Carr's were innocuous, but Commissioner Clyburn gave the BDAC a pretty good smackdown for not doing enough to enable rural broadband.

Also during this meeting the discussion of state and local model codes saw vigorous debate. The model codes that generated the controversy are not complete and have not been voted on, but there was a lot of back and forth between representatives from cities and the big carriers. Mayor Liccardo was particularly vocal in expressing his view that blanket preemption of local rules is bad policy. As previously noted, he resigned in protest the next day offering his reasons in this resignation letter.

Overall, I am honored to be a member of the BDAC subcommittee and very happy that our group has finished its work for now and has no further assignments. The full BDAC will likely need at least one more in-person meeting to finish up recommendations. The public may submit comments to the BDAC in the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System, ECFS, at Comments to the BDAC should be filed in GN Docket No. 17-83.