Evolving Broadband Policy: Taking Adaptive Stances to Foster Optimal Internet Platforms
CommLaw Conspectus, Vol. 17, No. 417, 2009
118 Pages Posted: 7 Dec 2011 Last revised: 17 Sep 2014
Date Written: July 1, 2009
With new ways of understanding markets come new ways of formulating and applying public policy solutions. This paper draws on two previous works by the author concerning “Emergence Economics” -- a unified treatment of various cutting-edge schools of economic theory -- and “Adaptive Policy making” -- guiding principles and a suggested framework for the public policy design space. Here the author presents a case study of U.S. policy governing broadband communications networks, starting with an overarching public policy goal of More Good Ideas, and a concomitant objective of harnessing broadband networks as an optimal platform for accessing the Internet. After discussing various realities of the physics and economics of deploying broadband networks, the paper explores the dimensions of availability, sufficiency, and integrity as optimal components of broadband pathways to the Internet. The author then devises a proposed public policy design space specifically for broadband infrastructure. The clash of competing incentives and mindsets will be discussed, along with the institutional arrangements that traditionally have governed communications infrastructure, including the common law roots of common carriage. The paper then delves into the prospect of evolving policy solutions that utilize the appropriate institutional overlays. Finally the paper puts forward some suggested “adaptive stances” to deal with legitimate concerns about maintaining broadband as an optimal platform to the Internet.
So what is the big deal about broadband? Why should we care whether or not consumers have access to high-speed Internet connectivity? What is so unique about this particular infrastructure that we worry over crafting national broadband plans and strategies, and devoting billions of dollars in government economic stimulus spending, and encouraging corporations to spend their own tens of billions of dollars -- just to get more of it? And what is behind the ongoing clash between network providers and users over broadband as a means of gaining “open” access to the Internet?
Much ink has been spilled in recent years over the legal and regulatory issues surrounding broadband networks and services. This paper will sacrifice a little more in the hope of casting additional light on how policy makers should fashion public policy that fully and effectively enables broadband as an optimal Internet platform. In particular, by focusing largely on the technical, economic, and legal grounding of broadband networks, and offering some specific potential policy projects, I hope in some manner to further a healthy debate over the appropriate policy regime to govern this generative infrastructure.
This work incorporates and expands on two previous papers. In an initial piece co-authored with Stephen Schultze, we introduced the concept of “Emergence Economics” to describe a unified framework built on the latest findings of various schools of economic theory. In a second piece I explicated the concept of “Adaptive Policy making” by governments, including some guiding principles and framing tools for utilization in the public policy design space. Here, I present some specific ways that policymakers should use these concepts and frameworks to grapple with current controversies in the regulatory treatment of broadband networks.
First, the article provides a brief overview of Emergence Economics, emphasizing the unique role of the Internet in creating and furthering innovation and economic growth. Adaptive Policy making by governments then is summarized, and some guiding principles and a public policy design space are presented. The design space includes a proposed adaptive toolkit for use by policymakers, including institutions (the how), organizations (the who), conceptual frames and tools (the which, when, and where), and actual projects (the what).
Next, the article explains how communications policymakers should define an overarching public policy goal of “more good ideas” and a concomitant public policy objective of “harnessing broadband networks.” The article stresses how policymakers should take a particular interest in encouraging broadband as an optimal platform for accessing the Internet, and how communications policy should incorporate various realities of the physics and economics of deploying broadband networks. The article also explores the three dimensions of the availability of broadband infrastructure, the sufficiency of Net capacity, and the integrity of Net access as necessary components of broadband networks serving as optimal pathways to the Internet.
After the suggested framework for Adaptive Policy making is established, the article applies it to the development of a public policy design space specifically for broadband infrastructure. The clash of incentives and mindsets by market players is explored, including the public policy objective to foment optimal broadband deployment against the countervailing market backdrop of broadband providers facing limited competitive challenges, significant and growing positive externalities, and the pecuniary benefits from prioritizing Internet traffic and supplying managed networks. The institutional arrangements that traditionally have governed communications infrastructure -- including the common law roots of common carriage -- then are examined in light of the policy making framework. That examination focuses on the increasingly forgotten common carriage prongs of public callings and voluntary bailment.
Finally the article delves into the prospect of evolving policy solutions to deal with the objective of creating optimal broadband infrastructure for Internet access, including utilizing the appropriate organizations, institutions, and tools. In contrast to more prescriptive remedies that, for now at least, should be resisted, the article puts forward some suggested adaptive projects to deal with concerns about maintaining and extending robust broadband as an optimal platform to the Internet.
Keywords: broadband, public policy, communications, economics, technology, FCC
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