I was gratified by the excellent attendance at the Free State Foundation’s program last Friday titled, “Thinking the Unthinkable: Imposing the ‘Utility Model’ on Internet Providers.” If you weren’t there, you missed what was a very important event – one that, in light of the substantive discussions that occurred, likely will play an important role going forward in the debate over the Federal Communications Commission’s consideration of the imposition of new net neutrality mandates.
Author: Randolph May
Nothing has changed my mind that it would be “unthinkable” for the FCC to classify Internet service providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act, the part of the 1934 communications law derived directly from the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887. The purpose of the Interstate Commerce Act was to constrain what was then seen as the monopolistic power of the railroads. The railroads were deregulated in the 1980s – long before the emergence today’s broadband Internet providers.
A little-noticed article in the Wall Street Journal over Labor Day Weekend concerning the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger caught my eye, not only because the article obviously concerns an important matter of communications policy, but also because it raises questions regarding a matter of proper administrative agency process.
In Scott Cleland’s recent piece titled, “Silicon Valley’s Biggest Internet Mistake,” he makes an important, too little addressed point: Were the FCC to classify Internet service as a “telecommunications” service under Title II of the Communications Act, this drastic step likely would have significant adverse international ramifications.
Back in 1997, then-FCC Chairman Reed Hundt titled a speech, “Thinking About Why Some Communications Mergers Are Unthinkable.” In his address, Mr. Hundt explained why, in his view, it was “unthinkable” to contemplate a merger between AT&T and one of the Bell Operating Companies. A principal reason had to do with what Mr. Hundt claimed would be the “resulting concentration” of “the long distance market.”
For almost eight years, I have been urging, along with other Free State Foundation scholars, an end to the costly so-called “integration ban.”This outdated, costly FCC regulation bans cable operators from integrating the security and programming navigation functions in set-top boxes.
This past Tuesday the House of Representatives, in a bipartisan voice vote, passed a bill reauthorizing the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act. STELA allows satellite providers, such as Dish[…]
I am grateful that Senator John Thune, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai spoke at the Free State Foundation’s June 25 seminar, “Reforming Communications[…]
Despite judicial rebuffs of the Federal Communications Commission’s two previous efforts to impose net neutrality mandates on Internet service providers – requirements that, in effect, and in one way or[…]
I confess that I am more than a bit mystified at the way FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and his Democrat colleagues, seemingly, are moving ever closer in the direction of embracing a Title II reclassification of Internet access services. No matter how loud the banging of pots and pans outside the FCC’s headquarters, it would be terribly unsound as a matter of policy to subject Internet services to the same Title II public utility regulatory regime that applied to last century’s POTS (“plain old telephone”) service.
As regular readers know, it has been my firm position that, after the DC Circuit’s Verizon decision, absent convincing evidence of market failure and demonstrable consumer harm, the FCC should not try to reinstate the net neutrality regulations the DC Circuit tossed out. Nevertheless, when Chairman Wheeler announced his intent to move forward with yet another net neutrality rulemaking, this time one based on a “commercial reasonableness” standard for assessing Internet providers’ practices, I said in a statement that “there appear to be elements in his proposal that may mitigate the otherwise potential harmful effects of unnecessary government intervention.”
Aside from whether you think the proposed Comcast – Time Warner Cable merger ultimately should be approved or not, it’s hard to suggest that Comcast’s announcement that it will divest 3.9 million subscribers does not advance the company’s pro-merger case by alleviating claimed competitive concerns. Without getting into the complexities of the proposed three-party subscriber divestiture transactions involving Comcast, TWC, and Charter Communications, the end result is that, as Comcast promised when the merger was announced in February, Comcast’s total number of subscribers, post-merger, will be less than 30% of the total number of U. S. cable subscribers.
The Federal Communications Commission has a Procrustean problem. The agency would do well to acknowledge it as a means of reforming its regulatory process.
I borrow from FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen’s address, “The Procrustean Problem with Prescriptive Regulation,” delivered at the Free State Foundation’s Sixth Annual Telecom Policy Conference on March 18. If you missed the conference and haven’t seen the C-SPAN video of Commissioner Ohlhausen’s speech or read it, you should. It ought to be required reading at the FCC.
In its recent ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court struck down yet another provision of federal campaign finance law as a violation of the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee.
This time it was the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act’s limitation on the aggregate amount of contributions — presently $123,200 — that a donor may contribute to all candidates or party committees in one election cycle.
I was pleased that Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly accepted my invitation to participate as a keynoter at the Free State Foundation’s Sixth Annual Telecom Policy Conference on March 18. We engaged in an informative and interesting lunchtime conversation, and I am grateful to Commissioner O’Rielly for indulging my questions.I was pleased that Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly accepted my invitation to participate as a keynoter at the Free State Foundation’s Sixth Annual Telecom Policy Conference on March 18. We engaged in an informative and interesting lunchtime conversation, and I am grateful to Commissioner O’Rielly for indulging my questions.
On March 14, the Obama administration announced it was initiating a process to transfer oversight of the Internet from the United States to some yet-to-be-defined global entity.
Assistant Secretary of Commerce Lawrence Strickling said, “The timing is right to start the transition process.”
You don’t need to be a credentialed foreign-policy expert, however, to harbor reservations concerning the plan to turn over management of key Internet functions to what the Commerce Department called the “global multi-stakeholder community.”
Anyone who has followed communications law and policy for a number of years – and I’ve been doing so for over thirty-five years – knows that the marketplace environment has changed dramatically in the last “number” of years. And undeniably – although at times some do try to deny it – the change has been in the direction of more competition and more choice for consumers.
The Federal Communications Commission has been much in the news recently — and deservedly so — owing to its ill-conceived “Critical Information Needs” study. Thankfully, after a public outcry, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently canceled this study.
Given the competition in the wireless broadband market – indeed, in the broadband marketplace at large – the costs of the FCC interfering with proposals like AT&T’s are likely to outweigh the benefits.