By comparison, even Verizon FIOS
looks like dialup.
You Can’t Regulate
or Can You?
When the FCC announced plans
to increase its minimum definition
of broadband from 200Kbps to
768Kbps, opponents of regulation
fumed. To be clear, the FCC does
ing relationships with the ISP or
its partners? And if an ISP can do
these things, is it obligated to tell
its customers that it’s doing them?
Several of these questions are
being tested in the case of cable
ISP Comcast, who was found to
be blocking Bit Torrent file-sharing
traffic. Despite initial claims that
said traffic was being blocked
during periods of high-traffic,
achieve a greater good than perhaps the market could produce
purely on its own.
In a non-free market like
broadband, innovation is not
going to magically materialize on
the goodwill of executives and
shareholders. The two options are
to increase competition or increase
regulation. Fortunately, the two
need not be mutually exclusive.
IN A NON-FREE MARKET LIKE BROADBAND, INNOVATION
IS NOT GOING TO MAGICALLY MATERIALIZE ON
THE GOODWILL OF EXECUTIVES AND SHAREHOLDERS.
not require providers to meet a
minimum service level, but the FCC
does need some metric to define the
very meaning of “broadband.”
In 2007 the National
Information Administration reported on progress toward George W.
Bush’s promise to achieve “
universal” broadband by that year. Their
conclusion: mission accomplished.
Never mind that 200Kbps is hardly
worth being considered broadband
in any first world nation, and that
a single resident with “broadband”
in a ZIP code was counted as valid
for every resident.
Perhaps the most well-known
battle over Internet regulation is
the subject of “net neutrality.”
Does an ISP have the right to
manage network traffic in any
way that it wants? Can an ISP
block a particular protocol or
network service because it consumes a lot of bandwidth? What
about blocking or slowing down
traffic to sites that have compet-
tests eventually proved that the
blocking was in fact continuous.
Moreover, Comcast originally
denied blocking at all—effectively
taking customers’ money for
“Internet access” while in practice,
secretly inhibiting their ability to
fully access the Internet. The FCC
has found Comcast in violation of
network neutrality principles, but
lacking a strong regulatory framework enshrining these in law, the
agency has limited recourse.
It is commonly said by anti-reg-ulationists that “you can’t regulate
innovation.” True enough—we
can’t force a business to innovate.
But we can add incentives that
work against complacency and
stagnation. After all, we have
regulations for voice communications for a reason—at one time,
we accepted that a robust voice
network was vital to the country’s
social and economic well-being.
We regulate fuel efficiency standards for vehicles because we
accept that this is necessary to
Competition in the broadband
market is slowly improving,
thanks to enhanced technologies
like wireless, but realistically it will
be years until truly vibrant competition might exist nationwide.
Policies which encourage competition—such as legislation that
opens more wireless spectrum—
are welcome. In the meanwhile,
there is a case to be made that
regulations, which push broadband providers to provide open
access with minimum service levels, might prevent our information
sector from resembling the wheel
of Swiss cheese that is rapidly
becoming the insufficien~tly regu- lated world of finance.
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