Why ‘We the People’ should decide how the FCC regulates our services
Every week, I am seeing groups who are not necessarily subject-matter experts in telecom make broad misstatements and present distortions to their captive audiences about what is needed to “save” the internet from so-called “fast lanes” that will put smaller, rising businesses and users at a disadvantage.
I agree that there does need to be some changes in regulators’ approach to dealing with internet companies and users, but I am most concerned with the fact that the current laws are quite out-dated, close to 20 years old and most likely do need to be updated to avoid some of the doom and gloom predicted to happen.
Former Congressman Rick Boucher turned telecom law firm partner, picked up on the most salient points to consider in this area in the recent OpEd piece. Focusing on a new paper by a think group he honorary chairs, Boucher lays out a good case for letting consumer preference and habits dictate. Internet and digital online and mobile services and offerings today cannot fit neatly into traditional archaic regulatory paradigms.
“With the cascading movement of consumers to Internet-based communications, regulators face far more difficulty in assuring the continued provision of the core consumer values of access to public safety and disability services, competition, consumer protection in dealings with the service provider, and universal connectivity,” Boucher writes in a recent commentary in The Hill. “Regulators simply don’t have purview over platforms like Facebook, Skype, Twitter, Snapchat, email and messaging,”
Boucher, who founded the Congressional Internet Caucus and chaired the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, said technology and the Internet acknowledge the call in the research for a “new network compact” which recognizes that consumers, regulators and service providers have more complex relationships with one another than in the recent past.
Before, regulators determined that most consumers needed one certain basic type and level of service and offerings, but these days, consumers have more choice and no longer are limited to receiving their voice, data, and video services through traditional means.
For example, you can watch your favorite Broadcast TV show on your mobile phone or on your computer and not necessarily on a television set. Consumers can make a telephone call via their computer via Skype. Many smart phones and tablets act like computers of yesteryear and have some if not all of the capabilities of traditional desktops.
“Recognizing that consumers are now in charge, a new network compact should feature empowered consumers in a dynamic relationship with competitive providers,” Boucher states. “Regulators should seek a more strategic relationship with service providers that focuses on the core consumer values yet remains responsive to consumer behavior.”
The example he gives relates FCC’s Lifeline program designed in the mid-1980s to provide low-income consumers with affordable wired telephone service, then subsequently wireless voice service.
“But, in the Internet communications age, a subsidy to phone companies that discounts the cost of service has lost much of its utility for consumers,” he adds.
Correct! Not everyone even have a traditional landline phone any longer.
Consider also the rapid amount of cord-cutting going on by cable customers who are relying on their Smart TVs and subscription services like Netflix.
Let the customer decide and be flexible in approach, so for example instead of mandating wholesale access to existing networks for competitors, regulators could let the competitors actually compete for the type of services consumers want most. The result would be to drive innovation, competition and investment into new networks which all could expand broadband capacity.
Acknowledge the rapid, fast moving competitive landscape that is afoot and the new world order of more consumer options.