Our own Bruce Mehlman has penned an op-ed for the Silicon Valley Mercury News on the perils of over-regulating the FCC’s upcoming spectrum auction. Here’s a taste:
In March, 37 senators urged President Barack Obama to appoint Jessica Rosenworcel to chair the Federal Communications Commission. The president instead named the well-qualified venture capitalist and industry veteran Tom Wheeler. Rosenworcel is sure to continue contributing mightily to the FCC as a commissioner, but perhaps the president should consider her for another job—attorney general.
This is not another criticism of the controversies embroiling the Department of Justice. Rather, Rosenworcel’s real contribution would be to offer a breath of fresh air in economic policy in the department, especially with regard to the dynamic tech marketplace.
The Justice Department doesn’t get it. Rosenworcel does. And the department’s anachronistic worldview threatens to delay our mobile broadband future.
You can read the full op-ed over at the Mercury News.
Political junkies may be fixated on the Republican primary calendar, but most Americans, including President Obama, the basketball fan-in-chief, turned their attention to the annual round of March Madness that is the NCAA men’s basketball championship tournament. The only thing tougher for fans than having made it through security at the game attended by the President and British Prime Minister David Cameron may have been finding enough bandwidth to send friends that camera phone picture of the championship-winning shot in New Orleans.
Anyone who has ever been to a large sporting event or concert knows how hard it is to use the mobile devices that we all love so much to access the Internet, make calls or send messages. The crush of so many people trying to do similar things at the same time can make for frustratingly slow speeds as the nearby bandwidth is exhausted.
Over the past few weeks, millions of people also checked scores, updated their brackets and watched games through the March Madness On Demand viewing platform using wireless devices. Last Thursday, Turner Sports announced that NCAA.com and March Madness Live averaged 1.1 million daily unique visitors and averaged 473,000 daily uniques on mobile.
The more we come to rely on smart phones, tablets and other wireless devices, the more our day-to-day mobile experiences will feel like those frustratingly slow connection attempts at large events if federal policymakers don’t rapidly increase the amount of spectrum available for wireless communications. The most practical and common-sense way to do this would be to allow companies to agree on deals that will enable the most efficient use of this limited resource and hold incentive spectrum auctions that are open to all qualified bidders.
To meet this looming spectrum shortage, Congress, the Federal Communications Commission and other Federal policymakers must develop a more imaginative approach when addressing telecommunications issues. The last time the federal government overhauled telecommunications rules was in 1996, and the bill Congress passed and President Clinton signed only mentioned the Internet once. In those days cable news channels such as MSNBC and Fox News were new innovations. Palm Pilots that docked onto a computer to send and download email were the smartest handhelds commercially available and checking email involved waiting for the cacophonous sound of static to give way to a steady tone and the welcoming voice AOL employed to tell users “you’ve got mail.”
In the last 15 years, the wireless industry has grown in unimaginable ways. Television content, software applications, music and movies have migrated to the Internet and consumers regularly access that content using mobile devices. The wireless industry has become a beacon for our struggling economy. It is driving investment, fueling innovation, powering job creation and economic growth. The industry is also the cornerstone of tomorrow, critical to our country’s ability to maintain our leadership position in the world economy. The wireless industry is working, for the economy and for consumers – and it’s in wireless users’ interest that it stays that way.
Spectrum is to the wireless industry what oil is to transportation. We don’t have to drill for it, but we do have to conserve it and allocate it to its highest needs. Ensuring more spectrum is available for all players is critical to keeping wireless broadband affordable, innovative and working for consumers. Smartly tackling the spectrum crisis and ensuring continued investment will benefit Americans across the nation.
Public leaders in the 1990s couldn’t imagine what was on the horizon, and the choices consumers have today make that period seem as quaint as the days of bunny-eared television and rotary phones. As today’s policy makers make decisions that will greatly impact the future of this dynamic industry, that recent history is cause for humility. Laws put in place today to regulate the wireless industry may be outdated tomorrow, because technology is constantly evolving. Today’s rules should encourage innovation and competition while remaining flexible enough to allow for unforeseen market needs.
Nobody knew that Kentucky would claim this year’s championship trophy, and nobody can predict who the winners will be in the next generation of telecommunications and technology competition. A corporate giant today could be an almost forgotten name tomorrow in this era where products we can’t live without rapidly find their way to the dustbin of desk drawers, the graveyards of unneeded gadgets. Like the NCAA, the FCC should set the rules, let those who qualify into the arena and stand back while the players play. If the next few years are anything like the last 15, the action will be fantastic.
The United States isn’t the only nation wrestling with Internet regulations. Reports Tech Daily Dose:
The European Commission announced Wednesday that it has launched an examination into the issue of network neutrality that will look at such issues as whether Internet service providers should be allowed to adopt network management practices that prioritize certain types of content over others.
During the announcement, Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda, pledged a thorough examination of the issue before moving forward:
“I am committed to keeping the Internet open and neutral. Consumers should be able to access the content they want… Content providers and operators should have the right incentives to keep innovating. But traffic management and net neutrality are highly complex issues. I do not assume that one approach or another should prevail.”
In an opinion piece for Multichannel News, Gregary Garre — chair of the Supreme Court, and former Solicitor General of the United States — warns that the FCC is over-stepping its legal boundaries by attempting to regulate the Internet under Title II:
Instead of tying itself into knots trying to conceive a jurisdictional basis for regulating broadband Internet access, the FCC would do well to recognize its own inherent limits. The constitution vests “all” legislative authority in the Congress, and all administrative agencies have only the rule-making authority that is delegated to them by the Congress.
The problem for the FCC is that Congress has not authorized the FCC to regulate broadband Internet access. Several bills have been introduced to give the agency that authority. But none has passed. Instead, Congress has repeatedly sought to ensure a free market for Internet services “unfettered by federal or state regulation.”
Read the whole thing.
Yesterday, in the wake of the FCC’s recent announcement that it will be moving forward with regulations on the Internet, Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida — a ranking member of the Communications, Technoligy and Internet subcommittee — introduced legislation requiring the FCC to partake in a market analysis before enacting new rules. Reports the Washington Post:
The FCC would need to prove that regulations are necessary and that there is a market failure that warrants rules. The agency would have to report the findings to Congress.
“I see no reason for Internet regulation. Yet, if there is ever a cause for regulation, it is a decision to be made by Congress – not the FCC,” Stearns said in a statement.
Via The Hill, House Republican Leader John Boehner has come out strongly against the FCC’s proposed regulations:
Boehner accused the agency Thursday of pursuing a “government takeover of the Internet,” just hours after FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski unveiled the plan, which would place broadband providers under some of the same rules that have long governed phone companies.
“Under this job-killing big government scheme, the Obama administration is seeking to expand the power of the federal government,” Boehner said in a statement.
“The success of the Internet is a perfect example of what happens when entrepreneurship and innovation are allowed to flourish, but today’s decision will undermine its success and hurt our economy,” the GOP leader continued. “The American people are asking ‘Where are the jobs?’ They aren’t asking for yet another government takeover that imposes new job-killing federal regulations and puts bureaucrats in charge of the Internet.”
The concerns over regulations are shared by a fellow congressman from across the aisle, Democratic Rep. Michael E. McMahon of New York, whose office issued this release about the FCC’s announcement:
MCMAHON STATEMENT ON FCC PROPOSED INTERNET RULES
Washington, DC—Today Congressman Michael E. McMahon (NY-13) a Member of the New Democrat Coalition in the United States House of Representatives issued the following statement on Federal Communication Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski’s proposed regulations over broadband services.
“I am concerned with Chairman Julius Genachowski’s proposed Title II Reclassification and what this means for all American communications companies. The Title II reclassification will allow the FCC to have a regulatory role over broadband providers but I am concerned that the Chairman and the Commission will use this mandate to regulate companies’ network management capabilities and put at risk my constituents’ access to new broadband mobile services.
In addition the FCC needs to understand that this reclassification of broadband should not apply to the competitive wireless marketplace due to differing network capacity restraints and capabilities. In just the last five years the broadband marketplace has changed considerably with the success of YouTube, Facebook, the IPhone and now the IPad.
Federal regulation and oversight should be used to help increase innovation, choice and savings for American consumers, not establish a one size fits all, top down approach,” said Congressman Michael E. McMahon.
In the wake of the FCC’s court loss in its case against Comcast, many tech and policy pundits have asked whether Chairman Julius Genachowski would reclassify broadband as a Title II type service in order to gain the commission the power to regulate ISPs. While Chairman Genachowski has so far remained quiet on the subject, the Washington Post is reporting that he’s currently leaning against reclassification:
Three sources at the agency said Genachowski has not made a final decision but has indicated in recent discussions that he is leaning toward keeping in place the current regulatory framework for broadband services but making some changes that would still bolster the FCC’s chances of overseeing some broadband policies.
The sources said Genachowski thinks “reclassifying” broadband to allow for more regulation would be overly burdensome on carriers and would deter investment. But they said he also thinks the current regulatory framework would lead to constant legal challenges to the FCC’s authority every time it attempted to pursue a broadband policy.
As various organizations and interest groups declare that the Internet is doomed in the wake of the FCC’s loss in its case against Comcast, BitTorrent CEO Eric Klinker — whose company was at the center of the case — has a different take on the FCC’s apparent lack of authority when it comes to regulating the Internet. Reports PC World:
Carriers probably won’t try to be gatekeepers against certain websites or Internet-based services because the steps they would have to take, [Klinker] said.
“For example, if (carriers) wanted to extract a rent from Google, one of the carriers in this room is going to have to blink first and block Google,” Klinker said. The greater threat to the Internet may be Apple’s “feudal” approach to the Internet, he said. Apple has come under fire for controlling access to popular, lucrative platforms of its own creation, such as iTunes and the iPhone App Store.
Most people basically want net neutrality, so it would be hard for carriers to justify network management measures that are seen as discriminatory, Klinker said. What consumers will embrace are moves to ease congestion during busy times.
At the Washington Post, tech writer Cecilia Kang breaks down the FCC’s options now that it has lost its case against Comcast. Those options: 1) Reclassifying broadband as a Title II service; 2) Seek power to regulate the Internet from Congress; 3) appeal the ruling.
The Washington Post reports that in an effort to protect consumer privacy, House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet Chairman Rep. Rick Boucher [D-Va.] is drafting a bill to regulate online marketing and advertising.
Drafting a bill that works for both consumers and ad networks won’t be without challenges, but Rep. Boucher believes smart regulation can be arrived at:
While Congress has waded into Internet privacy issues before, this measure could break new ground, as the first major attempt to regulate a nascent but fast-growing industry that represents the future of advertising. Boucher insists his bill will benefit consumers and preserve the underlying economics of the Internet, which relies on advertising to keep so much online content free.
“Our goal is not to hinder online advertising,” he said. “This will make people more likely to trust electronic commerce and the Internet.”