• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).


The FCC and the Internet

Competition and net neutrality.

November 2, 2014

Two New York Times articles about the F.C.C. caught my attention this week.  In the first, Why the U.S. Has Fallen Behind in Internet Speed and Affordability, explores concomitant legal and market factors that have had a deleterious result for U.S. consumers.

The F.C.C.’s classification of the Internet as an “information service” to keep it out of regulators’ clutches and allow the proverbial thousand flowers to bloom now has chickens coming home to roost. That classification, supported by the Supreme Court decision in the Brand X case, made it clear that cable companies, which have become technologically the locus of Internet connectivity AND one of the most monopolistic industries in the United States today, had no duty to share their pipes with competitors.  Nor do we tax that service for the expansion for broadband expansion.

Under these legal and market conditions, Comcast has no fear of anti-trust action. Moreover, reclassification of the Internet does not appear on the horizon because both the lobbyists for the communications’ companies and the “net neutrality” crowd would appear to agree on the overarching principle of keeping government out.  I sometimes wonder whether leaders of these movements are even aware of the irony.  Hence: in broadband service the United States supports a monopoly without fear of anti-trust action that becomes a self-fulfilled prophesy: high prices and increasingly slower/poorer service ... as well as ranking lower and lower in national broadband penetration.

If we had an alert Congress, we might be so bold as to imagine at least a healthy discussion. For all the lip service that our government gives to “innovation” as the one-size-fits-all solution to all of our economic challenges, Congress does not translate that sound byte into clear policy. For example, wouldn’t it be appropriate to have a category in communications law not stuck in radio and telephony and instead one that captures the culture, technology and politics of the 21st century? But alas, I dream …

The second article, F.C.C. Considering Hybrid Regulatory Approach to Net Neutrality, claims that a new F.C.C. proposal promises net neutrality and regulatory authority over the Internet traffic between Internet and communication’s companies.  This proposal is simply a more articulate version of the one that has been on the table since spring. Public relations and beltway politics being what it is, I do appreciate that this more explicit interpretation can get the public over the political hump. In practice, the “fast lane” will remain a matter between Internet giants and the I.S.P., but not one that would adversely affect consumers. 

I tend to be a pie in the sky thinker, but in this case I am completely on board for real politics. If it takes another version to the net neutrality that has been proposed all along this year, I am for it. It may not be 21st century classification of the Internet, but at least it is a start moving this country forward in the right direction.


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