Today, Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, provided the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology with three guiding principles he wants FCC policy to follow:
“Promoting Economic Growth and National Leadership – technological innovation,
growth and national economic leadership have always been determined by our networks.
Competition drives the benefits of those networks, and we have a responsibility to see to
the expansion of those networks, including the appropriate allocation of adequate
amounts of spectrum.
Guaranteeing the Network Compact – a change in technology may occasion a review
of the rules, but it does not change the rights of users or the responsibilities of network
providers. This civil bond between network providers and users has always had three
components: access, interconnection, and the encouragement and enablement of the
public-purpose benefits of our networks (including public safety and national security).
The Commission must protect the Network Compact. For example, the right of access
also means the ability of users to access all lawful content on a network. That is why the
FCC adopted – and I support – the Open Internet Order.
Making Networks Work for Everyone – it isn’t just that high-speed expands, but also
what it enables. How networks enable a 21st century educational system, enable the
expansion of capabilities for Americans with disabilities; and assure diversity, localism
and speech are basic underpinnings of our responsibility.”
What was missing from Chairman Wheeler’s presentation was any explicit expression of the role the FCC expects to play in the knowledge and information markets. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel probably came the closest to describing this role she opined that there may be too much focus on networks versus what amazing things networks are able to do. I found this statement poignant given Chairman Wheeler’s earlier description of himself as a “network man”. Mrs. Rosenworcel’s description of the FCC’s going forward role shed some light on what producers want to see from the communications networks but none of the Commission members actually shined the light directly into the room.
I agree with Mrs. Rosenworcel’s comments. The FCC gets a bit too fixated with the networks carriers want to build versus finding ways to facilitate information flow across networks. Chairman Wheeler’s network compact, which I have described before as net neutrality on steroids, is an example. The network compact could be made applicable to knowledge and information providers by tweaking the three prongs- access, interconnection, and the encouragement and enablement of the public-purpose benefits of our networks-upon which it is based. I would delete the reference to encouraging and enabling public purpose benefits and replace it with facilitating the smooth and fast flow of information across the networks. Such an amendment serves to incorporate a consumer-driven philosophy for how we look at the networks, especially given all the economic growth rhetoric from the House panel and the FCC members.
For example, my business partner and I wish to start an online institute that addresses human rights issues. By incorporating a consumer-driven philosophy toward broadband networks, the FCC should focus on policies that help our institute exchange data with our subscribers at faster rates and greater capacity. Just like middle mile and back bone carriers can enter into “speed lane” agreements with content providers, I should be able to partner with my Internet service provider for more capacity and greater data exchange speed with my subscribers. The FCC should defer to the network compacts that I enter into privately with carriers so that I can provide exchange my knowledge market services quickly and efficiently.
Chairman Wheeler’s status quo plus approach to net neutrality is disconcerting and probably won’t change until after an opinion is handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals-District of Columbia. This might not mean an end to the debate over whether broadband services should be subject to Title II treatment, but should give opponents to net neutrality another opportunity to voice displeasure with attempts to further regulate broadband versus facilitating the information and knowledge markets.