Free Press is holding its National Conference for Media Reform next week. The conference agenda describes the Internet as “central” to freedom of expression, which is how all mass media technologies have been described since the invention of the printing press ushered in the mass communications era. Despite recognizing that the Internet is a mass media technology, Free Press does not believe the Internet should be accorded the same constitutional protections as other mass media technologies. Like so many others, Free Press has forgotten that the dangers posed by government control of the Internet are similar to those posed by earlier mass media technologies. In a stunning reversal of the concepts embodied in the Bill of Rights, Free Press believes the executive and legislative branches of government are the source of protection for the freedom of expression. In their view, “Internet freedom means net neutrality.” Read More
At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month, I was surprised that nobody had access to 4G mobile Internet services. How could Barcelona, the second largest city in Spain and host to the “world’s premier mobile industry event,” lack access to 4G? In the opening day keynote session, Vittorio Colao, Vodafone’s CEO, said Europe has only 6% of the world’s LTE connections, and Telefónica’s CEO, César Alierta, said only 17% of European mobile subscribers have smartphones. European mobile operators agreed they are lagging the world in 4G deployment and penetration due to existing price regulations that discourage new infrastructure investments.
Europe now stands at a crossroads: Does it adopt the modern, investment-based approach toward wireless markets that made the US the world’s 4G leader, or does it further increase regulation and impose new obligations on “over the top” (e.g., Skype) services? Our history with the regulation of rural telephone companies demonstrates the perils of the second option. Yet European mobile operators appear ready to embrace new regulations as a means to enhance their business and create a “balanced relationship” with “US companies” that provide over the top (OTT) services. Read More
At yesterday’s oversight hearing of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US Senate, Commissioner McDowell said the rules governing the “C Block” in the upper 700 MHz band were responsible for its lack of interoperability. This wasn’t the first time someone has misunderstood what drove the development of the 700 MHz band plan in the US and the 3GPP process that developed LTE standards for the band, and I don’t expect it will be the last.
The 700 MHz band plan is complex and riddled with exceptions based on its unique history. I presented a keynote describing that history and its impact on the band to an international audience at 4G World last year. The keynote explained why the US couldn’t simply adopt the technically more efficient and interoperable “APT” band plan for 700 MHz that is preferred in Asia and was recently adopted by Mexico. The presentation I gave at 4G World is available here: 4G World 700 MHz Keynote.
In an opinion published in the Wall Street Journal last week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski admonished us to keep “discussions focused on solving problems, and on facts and data” when evaluating his spectrum policy proposals. That sounds reasonable, and it could be persuasive, if the FCC based its spectrum policy on consistently applied facts and data.
The FCC has instead chosen to selectively manipulate the facts and data to support its desired policy outcomes. Within a single quarter, the FCC has simultaneously concluded that:
- 194 MHz of spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band is available for mobile broadband services (note: when the FCC wants to show licensed spectrum in the US compares favorably with licensed spectrum on a global basis and that the ratio of licensed to unlicensed spectrum in the US is relatively balanced), and
- Only 55 MHz of the same 194 MHz in the 2.5 GHz band is available for mobile broadband services (note: when the FCC wants to deny a merger or limit the amount of spectrum available to disfavored competitors).
Neither the laws of physics and economics nor the regulations governing the 2.5 GHz band changed the actual facts and data in the intervening period between these inconsistent conclusions. The only things that changed were the results the FCC wanted to reach and the “facts and data” the FCC decided to present to the public. Read More
In remarks delivered at the Hudson Institute today, Federal Communications Commissioner Ajit Pai outlined two paths for the Internet Protocol (or IP) transition: One that clings to a legacy of heavily-regulated, monopoly communications networks and another that embraces the future being wrought by the competitive nature of IP communications. He noted that, while the FCC has thus far refused to choose one path or the other, consumers have overwhelming chosen the lightly regulated, competitive IP technologies of the future over the preference for monopoly the government chose in the past. Commissioner Pai has chosen to side with consumers by choosing the future – the path that protects consumers while making it clear that 20th Century economic regulation will not be imported into the IP-world. Read More
Susan Crawford, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, is in our nation’s capital today to promote her new book, Captive Audience. The book declares the United States is suffering from broadband inequality because no “privately provided wired Internet access product . . . can compete with cable.” Its proposed solution to this alleged monopoly is government ownership and control of Internet infrastructure as a public utility.
This proposal is not new. Organizations on the left have been advocating for government ownership of the Internet for years, but their efforts have been thwarted by the repeated failure of government owned broadband networks. Captive Audience attempts to give the idea new power by making an appeal to fear of a “looming cable monopoly.” The goal is to create a “technopanic” that pressures the federal government “to do something” despite the empirical evidence of government failure.
There are things the government could do to promote private investment in the market for Internet access, but destroying that market through government ownership and control isn’t one of them. A century of post-industrial experience with government market interventions has proven that a complex industrial economy is either market driven or a bureaucratic muddle.
We can ill afford bureaucratic meddling with the Internet given its importance to innovation and economic growth. But there is something even more dangerous than economic inefficiency at stake here: Government ownership and control of the Internet is a fundamental threat to freedom of expression. Read More