In the wake of today’s ruling in the D.C. Circuit that the FCC had exceeded its authority in attempting to regulate access to the Internet, I did a number of radio interviews and a radio debate with Derek Turner of Free Press, a leading advocate of Internet regulation.
The debate was a brief, fair exchange of views. I was struck, though, to hear Turner refer to the situation as a “crisis.” Sure enough, in a Free Press release, Turner says three times that the ruling creates a “crisis.”
Recall that in 2007 Comcast degraded the service it provided to a tiny group of customers using a bandwidth-hogging protocol called BitTorrent. Recall also that before the FCC acted, Comcast had stopped doing this, relenting to customer complaints, negative attention in news stories, and such.
In the wake of the D.C. Circuit ruling and the crisis it has created, Internet users can expect the following changes to their Internet service: None.
Wow. With crises like these, who needs tranquility?
“As a result of this decision, the FCC has virtually no power to stop Comcast from blocking Web sites,” the release intones.
That would be worrisome, though still not quite a crisis—except that Comcast would be undercutting its own business by doing that. Did you know also that no federal regulation bars people from burning their furniture in the backyard? That’s the same kind of problem.
As Tim Lee points out in his paper, “The Durable Internet,” consumer pressures are likely in almost all cases to rein in undesirable ISP practices. Computer scientist Lee presents examples of how ownership of communications platforms does not imply control. If an ISP persists in maintaining a harmful practice contrary to consumer demand—and consumers can’t express their desires by switching to another service—we can talk then. The focus should be on increasing competition by freeing up spectrum and removing regulatory barriers.
In the meantime, this “crisis” has me slightly drowsy and eager to go outside and enjoy the spring sunshine.