Monday, May 12, 2014

Unintended and Intended Disinformation in Telecom Policy Discussions

           On too many occasions, I have tried to set the record straight in the face of untruths in telecom policy debates that become all too real, or at least accepted as conventional wisdom.  For years I dutifully prepared a rebuttal to just about every Wall Street Journal editorial, or op ed on telecommunications.

            Of course not one rebuttal ever made its way to print, either in the original publisher, or elsewhere.  Being an independent, unsponsored researcher, I don’t have a built in constituency or publicist.

            Generally I have given up on this never-ending endeavor. I want this blog and my academic work to orient toward the future.  But today I have to make an exception.   

            A prominent listserv covered AT&T’s campaign to convince the FCC not to reclassify Internet access as a telecommunications service, subject to Title II regulation.  See http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/05/att-claims-common-carrier-rules-would-ruin-the-whole-internet/.  For reasons other than AT&T’s, I conditionally support opposition to this reclassification.  However I did attempt to refute one of the premises in the AT&T campaign.   

            On this prominent list serve, one of AT&T rationales generated a supporting comment.  AT&T asserts that the FCC has a congenital inability to use a light regulatory touch should it reclassify ISPs and reacquire legal authority to regulate.  
 
            A prominent academic, with a longstanding record favoring deregulation, made the following assertion:   
Everyone who is supporting Title II seems to believe that the FCC will use only light touch regulation (never actually seen that, have you?) and it won't be like regulating the Bell System.  I personally think that is just what it is going to turn into; that's where the logic of regulation takes you: price, entry, exit, quality regulation.  To pretend that this time, the FCC will be much lighter seems farcical.

             I took issue with this statement, based on the fact that the FCC has a longstanding and consistent history of engaging in regulatory restrain by streamlining and forbearing from regulation when sustainable competition exists:

            I am not in the camp that believes Title II regulation should apply to ISPs.

            However, [the list serve Moderator and the author of the above assertion] should give the FCC credit for using a provision in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (Sec. 160) to forbear and streamline Title II regulation.  When it has empirical evidence that facilities-based competition exists, the Commission has reduced regulation.  Examples include inter-exchange services, such as long distance, and many local exchange services.

            The facts do not support the premise that the FCC has a congenital inability to use a light regulatory touch---ever.

 
            Just like the Wall Street Journal, the listserv Moderator did not publish my response.

           Call me crazy, but I saw the need to prevent yet another instance of unintentional, or intentional misreading of the facts.  From my perspective, I see ample evidence that the FCC can forebear and streamline regulation.

            Doesn't the FCC have a record of using Sec. 160 to streamline and even forbear regulation? 

            I am disappointed that even at the list serve level, an attempt at respectfully challenging an assertion of the facts didn't get distributed for reasons that don’t pass the smell test.

 

 

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