FCC Chief Genachowski: ‘Tablet Technology Is Revolutionary’

“They're a revolutionary, breakthrough device,” says the chairman, and will drive innovation and economic growth

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in an interview with TheWrap on Friday that burgeoning tablet technology is a “revolutionary” force that can transform education and health care and drive American innovation.

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission carried an iPad at the interview, in advance of his scheduled address at the Consumer Electronics Show. Tablets are one of the hottest items at this year's Las Vegas event.

“I think they’re a revolutionary, breakthrough device,” he said. “The combination of the convenience of use, the beauty and simplicity of the operating system, the intuitiveness of controlling everything without a keyboard — it’s very exciting.”

Genachowski said he believed that the United States should be the first among industrialized nations to move from printed to digital textbooks, using tablets as the platform. “We should be the first country in the world to move from paper textbooks to digital textbooks. It will help improve the quality of education everywhere in the country.”

The FCC provides about $2 billion in federal funding to help schools move online, and Genachowski intends to use this program to push toward digital textbooks.

“It’s crazy that our kids carry around 50-pound textbooks, many of which are outdated. There’s no reason students shouldn’t have one digital textbook, one tablet, with up-to-date educational materials,” he said.

“The price point is much lower than what computers were a few years ago. With tablets, you’re asking a several-hundred-dollar question." But if they’re going to replace textbooks then the economics become less daunting, he said.

The question of using tablets in schools is part of what he said was his central focus for 2011 — a major initiative to create more electronic spectrum to drive innovation in the mobile space.

Broadcasters are under pressure from the FCC to give up some of the television spectrum they currently control through an “incentive auction,” in which broadcasters voluntarily give up spectrum which the government would auction. Broadcasters would participate in the proceeds.

Also read: FCC Chief Warns Broadcasters — Give Up Space for the Mobile Revolution

Broadcasters are considering the proposal, but say they have already relinquished spectrum before, during the transition to all-digital TV in 2009.

Asked if giving up spectrum does not feed broadcaster’s competition, Genachowski said:

“I don’t think that mobile broadband spectrum is competition to broadcast. Content providers increasingly see themselves as multi-platform. They know they need to distribute their content over every platform. As content creators, broadcasters also benefit from a healthy mobile infrastructure to handle the video.”

“Broadcasters are carefully studying this to see … if this is the right strategy.”

The FCC is in the process of changing its regulations to permit broadcasters to share spectrum that they currently control, but don’t use, with other broadcasters.

But if the distribution pipeline is not expanded — “it’s a big gap” between coming demand and current supply given the amount of broadband online distribution.  

Also read: FCC Report — Number of Wireless Transmitters Up 400%

“We have to narrow the gap or the choice for consumers will be between lousy service or higher price points,” Genachowski said.

“It’s a global competitiveness issue,” too, he added. Leading economies in Asia and Eurpe “are looking at their infrastructure, making sure it’s fast and robust … They look with envy at innovation coming out of the United States, and saying, ‘If we have a great mobile infrastructure and the U.S. doesn’t, let’s drive that innovation here.”

Genachowski’s initiative on spectrum comes on the heels of adopting net neutrality regulations in December to preserve an open Internet.

Asked if he were confident that the regulations will withstand a likely coming legal challenge, he said: “I’m confident the rules adopted will have a strong legal foundation and will be upheld in the courts. The framework is strong and balanced and will drive innovation throughout the broadband ecosystem.”