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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

References

  1. Broadband: Get Ready for the gale, ZDNN Tech News Now, June 26, 1999. http://www.zdnet.com/zdnn/stories/news/0,4586,2281301,00.html
  2. NCTA's web site is at http://www.ncta.com/.
  3. Hands Off the Internet is at http://www.handsofftheinternet.org/.
  4. 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.
  5. The Broward County (FL) Cable Ordinance can be found at http://www.co.broward.fl.us/cgi-bin/AT-anchor.pl?cable%20&/usr/lpp/internet/server_root/pub/cri03000.htm#cable 1 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 http://www.mhcrc.org/, the website of the Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission.
  6. The Amicus Brief is found at http://www.techlawjournal.com/courts/portland/19990816fcc.htm
  7. 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 Regulatory Commission, http://www.co.broward.fl.us/cgi-bin/AT-anchor.pl?cable%20&/usr/lpp/internet/server_root/pub/cri03000.htm#cable 1
  8. 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 circles.
  9. 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, http://www.comptel.org/filings/cbc_execsum.pdf (in PDF format)

Back to Contents