Democracy & Technology Blog Not just a Republican thing


Protecting the Internet from the heavy hand of government regulation is not just a Republican goal. The following excerpt is from a 1999 speech by former FCC Chairman William E. Kennard (appointed by President Bill Clinton):

What I would like to do is take the opportunity here today to talk to you a little bit about why I believe the best way to achieve these values is to resist the urge to regulate right now. One reason is because of my vision that we will have multiple broadband pipes — cable, DSL, broadband wireless, satellite, terrestrial broadcast. That is why I think the debate that we are having today about unbundling and access to this cable pipe is fundamentally different from the debates that we had about the telephone industry, when everybody knew that we only had one wire for the foreseeable future.
We have in the broadband world the conditions developing for choice and once you recognize that, and you recognize how quickly this world changes and how quickly networks get deployed today, you realize that this access issue is a transitional issue. It is a transitional debate that we are having.
And second, and very importantly, we should resist the urge to regulate because I think that it is likely that the market will sort this out. You need regulation when market-based incentives are not aligned with the needs of consumers. That is really why we have our jobs. But I believe that there are market incentives that will drive openness in the broadband world. One is the prospect of alternative pipes that I have talked about. The second is the culture of the Internet that has grown up in this country. Consumers love the openness of the network. Those early adopters who are going to migrate from the narrowband world to the broadband world grew up in a culture of openness on the Internet. They are going to insist that they have that same culture of openness in the broadband world.
And broadband providers will have to learn to accommodate it and deliver it. Otherwise they are not going to be competitive in a broadband world, particularly one where there are multiple broadband pipes.
Now, third, we must also recognize that regulation has costs. We all know that. And I come to this debate as a battle-scarred veteran of the telephone wars. I have been in those battles. I helped write the regulations implementing the 1996 Telcom Act. I was general counsel when that process was on-going. I defended those rules all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. I am still defending them. I believe in them. But I also know that it is more than a notion to say that you are going to write regulations to open the cable pipe. It is easy to say that government should write a regulation, to say that as a broad statement of principle that a cable operator shall not discriminate against unaffiliated Internet service providers on the cable platform. It is quite another thing to write that rule, to make it real and then to enforce it. You have to define what discrimination means. You have to define the terms and conditions of access. You have issues of pricing that inevitably get drawn into these issues of nondiscrimination. You have to coalesce around a pricing model that makes sense so that you can ensure nondiscrimination. And then once you write all these rules, you have to have a means to enforce them in a meaningful way. I have been there. I have been there on the telephone side and it is more than a notion. So, if we have the hope of facilitating a market-based solution here, we should do it, because the alternative is to go to the telephone world, a world that we are trying to deregulate and just pick up this whole morass of regulation and dump it wholesale on the cable pipe. That is not good for America.
I have talked to many, many people about this issue, on all sides. No one has offered a practical solution to me that avoids drawing us into this quicksand of regulation and embroiling what is a very nascent marketplace in a situation that I do not think we will be able to work our way out of anytime soon. So, when I look at the cost of regulation versus the benefits, when I look at the prospect that we can have a robust, competitive broadband marketplace, I conclude that we have to resist the urge to regulate and let it play out for just a while longer.

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.