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.
In a highly symbolic gesture, the Federal Communications Commission published the executive summary of its “National Broadband Plan” in one of the most opaque formats going: It’s a PDF scan of a printed document.
This means you can’t cut and paste the bullet point that says:
“Increase civic engagement by making government more open and transparent, creating a robust public media ecosystem and modernizing the democratic process.”
Can an agency that publishes documents in inaccessible formats be relied on to deliver transparency? Did you know that this is Sunshine Week?! Let’s segue from symbolism to substance …
That bullet and the many that accompany it explode the FCC’s proper authority and propose an industrial policy fit for . . . well, the industrial age — not that industrial policies were any good then.
The executive summary is 56 bullets broken into four sections, and six “goals” carefully crafted to avoid measurement with nebulous concepts like “affordable.” (We all want it, but affordability is subjective. Nothing is universally “affordable” while it bears a price tag.)
The one goal that is measurable is telling in its own way:
“Goal No. 6: To ensure that America leads in the clean energy economy, every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real‐time energy consumption.”
(Why should it take broadband to monitor your energy consumption? Does the FCC plan to send out scanned PDFs of photos of your electric meter?)
Whether we should have a network‐managed energy system or not, note how the Federal Communications Commission’s “broadband” plan would make it a player in the energy business. It would also be a player in health care. And education. And “economic opportunity.”
As to the latter, maybe the FCC has a leg to stand on. Expanding the current “universal service” tax‐and‐subsidy scheme would provide economic opportunity of a sort to the better lobbied firms in the telecommunications industry.
As I wrote before, in an even more summary way, “The Federal Communications Commission should be shuttered.” That’s still the gist of what I have to say about the “National Broadband Plan.”
I’ve seen plenty of stories and gotten a fair number of calls from reporters about the national broadband plan. They generally want to get some insight from down in the weeds of the communications world. What do you think of this part? What do you think of that?
But I’m keeping my eye on the ball: This is another industrial‐policy boondoggle. It’s a government spending program, created by the so‐called “Recovery Act,” that will distort the communications marketplace, and it comes at the cost to taxpayers of having their resources taken from them and handed out to the firms that are best equipped to lobby for government succor.
I don’t care which community gets 1‑gigabit connections. The money to pay for it should have been left with the American people to spend as they choose — on 1‑gigabit connections if they choose. The debt overhang produced by all this spending makes us worse off, not better off, and the shiny bauble of hi‐def, two‐way video doesn’t change that.
The Federal Communications Commission should be shuttered. That’s the gist of what I have to say about the “National Broadband Plan.”
The American Consumer Institute has released a collection of essays addressing the likely consequences of “ ‘Net Neutrality” regulation for investment in broadband and for consumer welfare. These are important things to consider, in case it needs saying.
Jeff Eisenach and Adam Thierer have a great essay in The American honoring the 50th anniversary of Ronald Coase’s article “The Federal Communications Commission.” It’s timely given the FCC’s proposal to establish public utility‐style regulation of the Internet under the banner “net neutrality,” and it’s a good general warning to Neo‐Progressives who “see market failure as the source of most problems, and government as the centerpiece of most solutions.”
Some people have labored under the impression that “net neutrality” regulation was about the government stepping in to ensure that large corporations would not control the Internet. Now that the issue is truly joined, it is clear (as exhibited in this Wall Street Journal story) that the debate is about one set of corporate interests battling another set of corporate interests about the Internet, each seeking to protect or strengthen its business model. The FCC is surfing the debate pursuing a greater role for itself, meaning more budget and power.
Tim Lee’s paper, The Durable Internet, dispels the idea that owners of Internet infrastructure can actually control the Internet. The preferred approach to “net neutrality” is to let Internet users decide what they want from their ISPs and let ISPs and content companies do unmediated battle with one another to create and capture the greatest value from the Internet ecosystem.
If the FCC were to reduce its power by freeing up more wireless spectrum — either selling it as property or dedicating it to commons treatment — competition to provide Internet service would strengthen consumers’ hands.
In an effort to achieve “network neutrality” online, the FCC is starting to write new regulations for Internet providers. Reuters reports:
U.S. communications regulators voted unanimously Thursday to support an open Internet rule that would prevent telecom network operators from barring or blocking content based on the revenue it generates.
The proposed rule now goes to the public for comment until Jan. 14, after which the Federal Communications Commissions will review the feedback and possibly seek more comment. A final rule is not expected until the spring of next year.
Cato Director of Information Policy Studies Jim Harper appeared on Fox News this week to discuss the FCC decision. “This is governmental tinkering with a market place that is working really well and growing right now,” said Harper. “The last thing we need is to cut that off.”
There are ways to achieve net neutrality without regulation, says Timothy B. Lee:
An important reason for the Internet’s remarkable growth over the last quarter century is the “end‐to‐end” principle that networks should confine themselves to transmitting generic packets without worrying about their contents. Not only has this made deployment of internet infrastructure cheap and efficient, but it has created fertile ground for entrepreneurship. On a network that respects the end‐to‐end principle, prior approval from network owners is not needed to launch new applications, services, or content.
…Like these older regulatory regimes, network neutrality regulations are likely not to achieve their intended aims. Given the need for more competition in the broadband marketplace, policymakers should be especially wary of enacting regulations that could become a barrier to entry for new broadband firms.