Broadband Cable: The Open-Access Debate
4. Policy Recommendations: A Scenario for Progress
Before considering policy recommendations, we must be clear about
our goals and purposes. If our goal is to advance abstract
principles, the place to debate these issues is in the press and
before the courts, which are equipped to deal in abstract principles.
If our goal is to obtain the very best telecommunications and
information services -- most flexible, most responsive, and most
economical -- then we must be more pragmatic.
NetAction's recommendations are pragmatic. They are intended to
meet goals which can be achieved in the next 12 months; at most, by
the end of the year 2000. Beyond 2000, legal, regulatory,
technological, and market factors create unmanageable uncertainty -- a
gamble best left to investors who can afford risks.
NetAction supports the availability of richer and more diverse
communication opportunities that result from the introduction of new
technologies. The information market may work itself out in many ways.
NetAction believes that we as a society must not prematurely constrain
or determine the shape of this market without clear evidence that
political intervention is (a) necessary and (b) will not create even
tougher problems. The case for intervention that meets these
conditions has not yet been made. Instead, NetAction advocates:
- Regulatory forbearance. Regulators at all levels of government
must resist prematurely regulating the development of new media of
communications. It is too early to impose on new technologies a
regulatory girdle that may unnecessarily constrain the growth and
development of a rapidly changing industry.
- Policy convergence. When policy is required -- for example,
regarding the development of telecommunications infrastructure --
federal, state, and local regulators must act in concert. The days of
infighting among government agencies will be difficult to maintain in
light of the Internet and other networked media that defy traditional
jurisdictional boundaries and allegiances.
- Inspiring, socially rewarding policy goals. One of Franklin
Roosevelt's Brain Trusters, Rexford Tugwell, said it best: "Make no small
plans, for they have not the power to move men's souls." The FCC,
state regulators, and local governments must create incentives that
encourage and inspire the private sector to work with the public to
ensure the successful deployment of diverse technologies. If we start
by identifying a common vision for a knowledge-driver, 21st Century
United States, we can work backwards to develop the policy goals that
will make that vision a reality.
It's wrong for companies such as the Bells, GTE, and AOL to
manipulate public policy to the detriment of consumers and for their
own narrow, corporate benefit. Their motives have been clearly
exposed, and consumers have clearly benefitted from the emerging
competition in this area -- witness the dramatic decline in price for
DSL service where meaningful competition from cable exists.
The national renaissance accompanying the networking of America is
remarkable. Parochial interests must not be permitted to throw a
wrench in the works, merely to serve coarse self-interests. The
future of our nation, our culture, and ourselves as citizens is at
stake. Policy makers, take heed.
- Broadband: Get Ready for the gale,
ZDNN Tech News Now, June 26, 1999.
- NCTA's web site is at
- Hands Off the Internet is at
- At the national level, the telephone companies
are handling their own advocacy. So far, three bills have been
introduced in the Congress that support the telcos' position:
This last is a bold pitch to deregulate all telephone company
high-speed data services on the pretense that broadband cable
today is a competitive medium.
- HR 2367, Blumenauer et al, Community Choice in Access to
- H.Con.Res. 173 Markey et al, FCC should exercise authority
nondiscriminatory access to the Internet over cable systems
- HR 2420 Tauzin, The Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act
- The Broward County (FL) Cable Ordinance can be found at
The issues introduced in the Portland/Multnomah County cable controversy,
including the local ordinance and the decision of the federal judge
upholding this ordinance, can be found at
the website of the Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission.
- The Amicus Brief is found at
- A critical interpretation of the FCC's reticence to regulate access
can be found in "Open Access" on Internet High Seas: Where the FCC is
Loathe to Sail, David C. Olson, Journal of Municipal Telecommunications,
Vol. 1., No. 1, April 1999. Posted on its website by the Mt. Hood Cable
- Cable Television: A Handbook for Decisionmaking, W.S. Baer,
R-1133-NSF. In the 1970s, Dr. Walter Baer led a team at RAND that
produced a series of reports on the state of cable television in
America. These reports were highly influential in national policy
- For a discussion on facilities-based competition,
see Building A Broadband America: The Competitive Keys to the Future of
the Internet by Lee L. Selwyn, Patricia D. Kravtin, and Scott A. Coleman, May 1999,
(in PDF format)