Democracy & Technology Blog Common carrier for you, not for me

A Google representative worries that the company’s investment in Google Voice could be undermined if the service is subjected to common carrier rules.

Whitt said it would become “a real challenge” to justify Google’s investment in Google Voice if the FCC declared it was subject to common carrier rules. “Imposing legacy common carriage requirements would be unfortunate not just for Google Voice, but also for lots of innovative companies, large and small, who are using the Web to revolutionize the way people communicate with each other,” Whitt said.

Aren’t common carrier rules what Google wants to impose on broadband service providers through network neutrality regulation?
Of course they are.
Google seems to realize that common carrier rules are antagonistic to investment and innovation, so it’s difficult to understand how the company’s efforts to induce policymakers to impose these rules on Google’s broadband service suppliers is anything other than a bald attempt to exploit the regulatory process to shift costs on to someone else.

Such maneuvers are common, of course; they are usually justified because “everyone does it.”
But Google purports to be something better than just another big corporation. It supposedly has a heart and a soul. It’s corporate motto is “do no evil.”
If Google persuades Congress or the FCC to limit the pricing freedom of its broadband service suppliers, that will only force the suppliers to recover their costs from end users.
That will be good for Google and its investors, because it will mean they won’t have to share their lucrative ad revenues with other participants in the value chain.
But it will mean that end users will pay higher prices, because it will be illegal for suppliers to collaborate in innovative ways to use ad revenues to subsidize end users. It’s hard to see how this could be described as a proconsumer policy.
It’s also not clear whether this would be good or bad for new innovators — the people whom Google claims to be looking out for. On the one hand they would be guaranteed lower prices for access to end users; but on the other hand if their services and applications are reliant on a clear and uncongested broadband path (e.g. voice services, medical monitoring, etc.) or any other cooperation from broadband service providers to ensure a particular service quality, they will be clobbered by regulation which aims to drive all profit from the core to the edge of the network.
Common carrier regulation was designed to ensure that a monoplist provided high quality service at a low price. It only partially succeeded, but that is another issue. The point is, we no longer have a monopolist. We now have competitors who would commit suicide if they unreasonably increased the price or decreased the quality of their service.
Common carrier rules are incompatible with a competitive market: they aren’t necessary to protect consumers, and they inhibit investment and innovation.

Hance Haney

Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project
Hance Haney served as Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project at the Discovery Institute, in Washington, D.C. Haney spent ten years as an aide to former Senator Bob Packwood (OR), and advised him in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee during the deliberations leading to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He subsequently held various positions with the United States Telecom Association and Qwest Communications. He earned a B.A. in history from Willamette University and a J.D. from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.