Debatable Premises in Telecom Policy
35 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2014 Last revised: 16 Aug 2014
Date Written: March 31, 2014
This is an active time in telecommunications and technology policy debates: the IP transition, the Open Internet NPRM, discussion of a Communications Act update, ongoing implementation of the Connect America Fund, Incentive Auctions, debates about Interconnection, the merits of pending mergers between Comcast/TWC and Sprint/T-Mobile, and relentless discussion of US Internet speeds compared to the rest of the world. This project looks at the provenance of and critiques a number of premises central to these telecom policy debates. It builds on other recent work critiquing commonly-held views in telecom policy debates: viz, that everyone needs low-cost access to high speed broadband service; that high-speed broadband is necessary for education, health, government, and other social services; that wireless can’t compete with cable; that an open Internet is necessary for innovation and necessarily benefits consumers; and that the quality of Internet service in the United States is falling behind that available in other countries. This project takes a deeper and more critical look at these views, including their origins and supporting arguments. One of the most problematic aspects of telecom policy debates is that bad ideas don’t die. Advocates, often representing narrow interests, continually use arguments that make superficial sense, but that on further inspection are fundamentally flawed. The intuitive appeal of these arguments ensures that they find substantial support among well-intentioned legislators, regulators, and much of the public. Every time these arguments are made, they need to be rebuffed. They turn a policy debate into a war of attrition. They shift attention in the debate from what is good for consumers to what is good for the interests that purported consumer-advocates represent. Meanwhile, residual consumers, those with median interests and who are most likely harmed by policy decisions are left without a voice. Debates over telecom policy are necessary to the well-being and prosperity of our country. Good ideas in telecom policy can benefit consumers nationwide; bad ideas can be terribly costly. At its best, telecom policy can help support enterprises and technologies that can lift the poorest and least fortunate among us to prosperity, afford unparalleled access to education, health, and other human services, and create platforms for expression and enterprise unknown at any prior point in human history. Few, if any, other technologies or industries have the potential to create so much good for so many. Hopefully, critical examination of the premises considered in this article will help advance telecom policy debates. This is an exciting time in telecom policy. It is also a challenging time, given the fundamental shifts in technology and the industry that have occurred since the enactment of the 1996 Telecom Act. If we can move beyond the superficial aspects of these debates we are poised to make great progress in the coming year.
Please do not consider this paper for the poster session.
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