On Wednesday afternoon, the FCC announced plans to regulate broadband Internet connections under Title 2. This effectively reverses the 2002 deregulation of the industry and gives the FCC the option to treat the nations Internet infrastructure and ISPs similar to the way phone companies are regulated.
This is nothing short of great news. While the FCC has been vague about what it intends to actually regulate and enforce, the effort seems to be aimed at ensuring Net Neutrality and possibly allowing shared access to lines. So far the FCC has stayed clear of suggesting possible rate controls, but I think it’s a good thing that the threat is at least out there.
Critics are predictably outraged. Michele Bachmann has called Net Neutrality an Obama censorship plot, which is more than a little comical in that it is exactly the opposite. Net Neutrality is the principle that the “tubes” may be used for anything and may not be regulated by content type.
Saner people are claiming this will destroy any incentive for ISPs to invest in Internet infrastructure. I understand their concern, but despite being regulated, phone companies built one of the most robust and reliable telecom infrastructures in the world and made a healthy profit doing so. There’s no reason to suspect that won’t happen here as well.
Some are also arguing this is unnecessary as competition in markets would achieve the same goal. This is true, however, there isn’t competition in many markets (like where I live!). And where that competition doesn’t exist, there’s little to no investment in ISP infrastructure, and prices are higher (I’m looking at you Time Warner!). Opening up last mile infrastructure to shared access would facilitate getting more competition into such markets. And that’s good for consumers.
Minimally, this finally recognizes the Internet as a public utility. In today’s’ world, it deserves this label more than telephone companies. Further, I don’t think there’s any history of over-regulation of public utilities. The government has always been content to let competition do what it can while using judicious legislation to foster competition and protect consumers.
Does this open the possibility of government abuse? Of draconian oversight and regulation that would criple the ISP industry? I suppose, but the government also has the power to nuke Buffalo, but we don’t worry about it doing that.
There’s no conceivable advantage to the government destroying the ISP industry, so worrying about it doing so seems foolish. On the other hand, there’s every motivation for the ISP industry to abuse consumers by holding a vital service hostage in markets without adequate competition.
Seriously, who are you worried about being more evil, the government or the cable company?