H.R. 1685 (Boucher) and H.R. 1686 (Goodlatte) claim to encourage the growth and development of the Internet. In fact, the bills would discourage investment in new broadband facilities by imposing undefined access obligations on cable systems, satellite companies and other high-speed Internet competitors. Instead of taking a "hands off" approach to the rapidly changing Internet marketplace, Boucher/Goodlatte would impose monopoly-era, legacy regulation on the emerging and highly competitive market for broadband Internet access.
NetAction agrees with FCC Chairman William E. Kennard that government intervention in the nascent broadband industry is premature. Not only is the presumption that cable operators have a broadband monopoly wrong, but placing "unbundling" requirements on cable systems would destroy the only realistic option for creating the vibrant local telephone competition envisioned by the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
Treating cable and other broadband services like traditional monopoly telecommunications services, by placing mandatory access requirements on new broadband entrants, is inconsistent with the deregulatory 1996 Telecom Act. Cable broadband has a miniscule share of the Internet access marketplace and faces vigorous competition from DSL, satellite and other high-speed Internet technologies. Cable companies are new entrants in this incipient market and clearly have no monopoly power at this time. Regulation is warranted only where competition has failed, and competition is clearly working in broadband.
Proponents of Boucher/Goodlatte (AOL, GTE and the Bell companies) want to delay cable broadband deployment to meet their own strategic interests in preserving "narrowband" market dominance and deterring competition with monopoly local telephone services. Consumers would be better served if these companies focused on technological innovation and competition rather than legislative protectionism.
Cable systems are different from telephone companies and should not be treated the same. Because cable network facilities are shared among all users, it is not technically feasible at present to provide access to other ISPs. Unlike telephone networks, where individual "loops" serve each customer, there is no specific link cable systems can unbundle and no industry standard for interconnection of competing broadband providers.
Investors will be reluctant to finance the upgrades necessary to deploy cable broadband if competitors can "free ride" on their investments. Forced access would also deter cable from providing competitive local telephone services. Since the cable industry is the most promising alternative to the regional Bell companies, undermining cable's incentive to invest in new technologies would defeat the key competitive purpose of the 1996 Act - jump-starting competition with monopoly local telephone services.
Cable broadband services are neither proprietary nor "closed." Users can access any Internet or Web site with a single mouse click. (AOL is far more closed than cable Internet services.) Cable broadband providers can retain customers only if their "portal" content and services are more attractive than other Web alternatives.
Cable broadband deployment has spurred telephone companies to accelerate their own DSL roll-out and to reduce prices for broadband Internet access. Competition from cable Internet services is driving the market and providing real benefits for consumers.
Many Internet users favor a hands-off approach to the Internet and oppose forced access for cable broadband.
To let your representatives in Congress know you oppose this bill, visit the Consumers Voice web site. http://www.consumersvoice.org/communicator.asp