2012 December

Should We Use the “One Ring” to Control the Internet?

Posted by | Broadband Internet, Freedom of Speech, Internet Analogies, Media | One Comment

Three rings for the broadcast-kings filling the sky,
Seven for the cable-lords in their head-end halls,
Nine for the telco-men doomed to die,
One for the White House to make its calls
On Capitol Hill where the powers lie,
One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all and without the Court bind them,
On Capitol Hill where the powers lie.

Myths resonate because they illustrate existential truths. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythical tale, the Lord of the Rings, the evil Lord Sauron imbued an otherwise very ordinary ring – the “One Ring”– with an extraordinary power: It could influence thought. When Sauron wore the One Ring, he could control the lords of the free peoples of Middle Earth through lesser “rings of power” he helped create. The extraordinary power of the One Ring was also its weakness: It eventually corrupted all who wore it, even those with good intentions. This duality is the central truth in Tolkien’s tale.

It is also central to current debates about freedom of expression and the Internet.

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FCC Should State the Obvious: Telephone Service Is Not a Monopoly

Posted by | Broadband Internet | One Comment

“Given the rate at which telephone companies are losing customers when they cannot raise prices as a regulatory matter, it is preposterous to continue presuming that they could raise prices as an economic matter.”

Today, the United States Telecom Association (USTA) asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to declare that incumbent telephone companies are no longer monopolies. Ten years ago, when most households had “plain old telephone service,” this request would have seemed preposterous. Today, when only one in three homes have a phone line, it is merely stating the obvious: Switched telephone service has no market power at all.

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Conservatives Are Leading Internet Transformation

Posted by | Broadband Internet, International | One Comment

Last summer I blogged about my expectation that conservatives would embrace the Internet. Though many shared this expectation, I doubt anyone expected the Republican Party platform would provide a vision for transforming our communications infrastructure into the Twenty-First Century, or that conservatives would be leading Internet transformation in 2012. Though progressives are stereotypically viewed as tech-savvy, progressives are now following the lead of conservatives on Internet transformation.

Conservatives started leading on Internet issues early in 2012. Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell was outspoken often and early on the dangers posed to the Internet by the World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT-12), which is going on right now in Dubai.

Many in the tech blogosphere initially attacked McDowell. Last February, ExtremeTech said McDowell’s “claims [were] factually inaccurate and hyperbolic,” and that his threat assessment “[was] completely out-of-step with the US government’s opinion.” Though it offered no apology to McDowell, this month ExtremeTech finally recognized that the ongoing negotiations in Dubai “have the potential to completely change the way the internet works, and that is terrifying.”

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How to Rig an FCC Spectrum Auction in 5 Easy Steps

Posted by | Wireless | 2 Comments

Tomorrow the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is testifying at a House Energy and Commerce Committee oversight hearing on spectrum auctions. The hearing is focused on the implementation of the broadcast incentive auction required by the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (“Spectrum Act”), though the members will likely address other issues as well, including mobile spectrum aggregation.

I expect several questions regarding the FCC’s commitment to comply with the legislation as enacted by Congress. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has questioned whether several of the agency’s proposals in its auction proceeding are consistent with the Spectrum Act. The FCC’s recent proceeding to consider mobile spectrum aggregation has since raised troubling new questions regarding the agency’s willingness to comply with Congressional directives regarding spectrum auctions. If the FCC adopts new limits on spectrum holdings as suggested by its mobile competition reports, Verizon and AT&T would be prohibited from bidding in the incentive auction. Contrary to Congressional intent, the incentive auction would be rigged before it even begins.

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Don’t Let the Doublespeak Fool You: When CLECs Say “Packet-Mode,” They Mean “Regulate the Internet”

Posted by | Broadband Internet | No Comments

When CLECs say “packet mode,” don’t let the doublespeak fool you. They are asking for heavy-handed economic regulation of the Internet itself, just like many countries at the ITU.

Last week, I wrote about the failure of the CLECs to provide consumers with the additional choices in communications services Congress had envisioned in 1996. I noted that, now that the antiquated telephone network is about to sunset, CLECs must bear responsibility for their own decisions to forgo investment in their own infrastructure and rely on lines leased with temporary government subsidies. The desperation of CLECs to avoid this reality is apparent in their use of doublespeak to conceal their true intent: convincing the FCC to regulate the Internet like plain old telephone service.

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Don’t Let CLECs Throw Consumers Under the Internet Bus

Posted by | Broadband Internet | One Comment

Rather than invest and deploy new networks offering millions of consumers with additional choices for high speed Internet access, CLECs are investing in the regulatory process in hopes the FCC will save them from the inconvenience and expense of transitioning to all-IP infrastructure. The FCC should not allow the self-interest of CLECs to stand in the way of the IP-transition or the delivery of high speed Internet services to millions of residential consumers who demand more choice.

Shortly after AT&T announced “Project Velocity IP,” its plan to invest an additional $14 billion to provide high-speed Internet access to 99 percent of customer locations in its wireline service area, I blogged about the broad consensus among policymakers, pundits, and industry players in support of the announcement. But, “you can never please all of the people all of the time.” Now that the initial buzz around the announcement has abated, the inevitably unpleased few have gone on the offensive.

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New Mobile Measurement Service

Posted by | Broadband Internet, Privacy, Wireless | No Comments

XenSurvey, a new service that measures, analyzes, and compares cellular broadband networks, is intriguing. It is being marketed as an enterprise application, but has plans that start at $29 per month. It is unlikely that a consumer would be willing to pay for such a service, but it might be attractive to consumer magazines that regularly conduct these types of measurements.

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Court Decision on Mobile Internet Offers a Reasonable Path Forward on Internet Regulation

Posted by | Broadband Internet, Wireless | 7 Comments

The FCC can impose limits on Internet service providers designed to protect consumers without regulating them as traditional common carriers. This approach offers the FCC an opportunity to balance the concerns of consumers regarding content with the concerns of Internet service providers regarding competition and network investment.

Today the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a decision affirming the authority of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to require that mobile Internet providers offer Internet roaming services to other mobile providers on commercially reasonable terms. Though I have previously criticized the FCC for exercising authority over the mobile Internet, I believe the court’s reasoning could have much broader implications for FCC authority over the Internet generally. In my view, the decision offers the FCC a reasonable path forward that balances the requirements of Internet transformation with consumer demands for Internet freedom. The decision suggests a balanced approach to these issues by clarifying that the FCC has authority to regulate the Internet in a manner that protects consumers without treating Internet service providers as traditional common carriers subject to heavy regulatory burdens. If I’m right, it could become a landmark decision that guides communications regulatory policy in the 21st Century.

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