The Senate is expected to vote Wednesday on a proposal by Ed Markey (D-MA) to resurrect the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 attempt to prevent blocking, throttling and paid prioritization by declaring that it has the right to regulate broadband using public utility-style regulation from 1934 that applied to telephones. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) let the cat out of the bag in remarks on the Senate floor on May 9 when he acknowledged that re-imposing public utility status would allow the FCC to regulate the price of broadband services. We believe that the internet (sic) should be kept free and open like our highways—accessible and affordable to every American, regardless of the ability to pay. The 1996 Telecommunications Act that Read More ›
Hal Singer has discovered that total wireline broadband investment has declined 12% in the first half of 2015 compared to the first half of 2014. The net decrease was $3.3 billion across the six largest ISPs. As far as what could have caused this, the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order “is the best explanation for the capex meltdown,” Singer writes. Despite numerous warnings from economists and other experts, the FCC confidently predicted in paragraph 40 of the Open Internet Order that “recent events have demonstrated that our rules will not disrupt capital markets or investment.” Chairman Wheeler acknowledged that diminished investment in the network is unacceptable when the commission adopted the Open Internet Order by a partisan 3-2 vote. Read More ›
Chairman Thomas E. Wheeler of the Federal Communications Commission unveiled his proposal this week for regulating broadband Internet access under a 1934 law. Since there are three Democrats and two Republicans on the FCC, Wheeler’s proposal is likely to pass on a party-line vote and is almost certain to be appealed. Free market advocates have pointed out that FCC regulation is not only unnecessary for continued Internet openness, but it could lead to years of disruptive litigation and jeopardize investment and innovation in the network. Writing in WIRED magazine, Wheeler argues that the Internet wouldn’t even exist if the FCC hadn’t mandated open access for telephone network equipment in the 1960s, and that his mid-1980s startup either failed or was Read More ›
Supporters of Title II reclassification for broadband Internet access services point to the fact that some wireless services have been governed by a subset of Title II provisions since 1993. No one is complaining about that. So what, then, is the basis for opposition to similar regulatory treatment for broadband? Austin Schlick, the former FCC general counsel, outlined the so-called “Third Way” legal framework for broadband in a 2010 memo that proposed Title II reclassification along with forbearance of all but six of Title II’s 48 provisions. He noted that “this third way is a proven success for wireless communications.” This is the model that President Obama is backing. Title II reclassification “doesn’t have to be a big deal,” Harold Read More ›
As I and others have recently noted, if the Federal Communications Commission reclassifies broadband Internet access as a “telecommunications” service, broadband would automatically become subject to the federal Universal Service tax–currently 16.1%, or more than twice the highest state sales tax (California-7.5%), according to the Tax Foundation. Erik Telford, writing in The Detroit News, has reached a similar conclusion. U.S. wireline broadband revenue rose to $43 billion in 2012 from $41 billion in 2011, according to one estimate. “Total U.S. mobile data revenue hit $90 billion in 2013 and is expected to rise above $100 billion this year,” according to another estimate. Assuming that the wireline and wireless broadband industries as a whole earn approximately $150 billion this year, the Read More ›
Would the Federal Communications Commission expose broadband Internet access services to tax rates of at least 16.6% of every dollar spent on international and interstate data transfers–and averaging 11.23% on transfers within a particular state and locality–if it reclassifies broadband as a telecommunications service pursuant to Title II of the Communications Act of 1934? As former FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth notes in a recent Forbes column, the Internet Tax Freedom Act only prohibits state and local taxes on Internet access. It says nothing about federal user fees. The House Energy & Commerce Committee report accompanying the “Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act” (H.R. 3086) makes this distinction clear. The law specifies that it does not prohibit the collection of the 911 Read More ›
Allowing broadband providers to impose tolls on Internet companies represents a “grave” threat to the Internet, or so wrote several Internet giants and their allies in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission this past week. The reality is that broadband networks are very expensive to build and maintain. Broadband companies have invested approximately $250 billion in U.S. wired and wireless broadband networks–and have doubled average delivered broadband speeds–just since President Obama took office in early 2009. Nevertheless, some critics claim that American broadband is still too slow and expensive. The current broadband pricing model is designed to recover the entire cost of maintaining and improving the network from consumers. Internet companies get free access to broadband subscribers. Although the Read More ›
The hottest companies in Washington, DC right now include Netflix, Sprint and T-Mobile. What do these firms have in common? They are all marketplace losers.
A few years ago, the Supreme Court said that the Sherman Act “does not give judges carte blanche to insist that a monopolist alter its way of doing business whenever some other approach might yield greater competition” (see: Verizon v. Trinko, 2004). Yet this is precisely the course of action that technocrats are taking as a result of accepting invitations from Netflix to conduct a “wide-ranging antitrust investigation” of the cable industry and from Sprint and T-Mobile to find a way to block Verizon Wireless’ acquisition of additional spectrum.
Netflix built a successful mail order DVD business when it wasn’t very practical to download movies over the Internet. Fortunately for Netflix, consumers can send and receive, but they cannot rent DVDs from the Post Office. There are legal and political constraints that prevet the U.S. Postal Service from diversifying into new lines of business, and these restrictions conferred a significant degree of monopoly protection on Netflix. Incidentally, saving the Postal Service requires diversification, among other things. What was great for Netflix wasn’t so good for the postal system (upon which we all depend).
Although some advocates of network neutrality wanted to postalize broadband, the Federal Communications Commission said no. Apparently, we are going to have that debate all over again.
Cable companies obviously will not be prevented from competing against Netflix and other online video providers. But a drive to eliminate any conceivable competitive advantage that cable providers may have would ultimately lead to extensive regulation, including, most likely, infrastructure sharing rules like those the Supreme Court looked at in AT&T v. Iowa Utilities Board (1999). In his separate opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer warned that “rules that force firms to share every resource or element of a business would create, not competition, but pervasive regulation, for the regulators, not the marketplace, would set the relevant terms.”
The current administration promised to reinvigorate antitrust enforcement. What that means is a return to the economic stagnation of the 1970s, when antitrust forced consumers to do business with uncompetitive, inefficient firms. It is no exaggeration to speak of antitrust as a form of corporate welfare financed by hidden taxes on consumers. The reality is that government cannot create competition; it can only suppress competitors.
More this week on the efforts of Reed Hastings of Netflix to reignite the perennial debate over network access regulation, courtesy of the New York Times. Hastings is seeking a free ride on Comcast’s multi-billion-dollar investment in broadband Internet access.
Times columnist Eduardo Porter apparently believes that he has seen the future and thinks it works: The French government forced France T�l�com to lease capacity on its wires to rivals for a regulated price, he reports, and now competitor Iliad offers packages that include free international calls to 70 countries and a download speed of 100 megabits per second for less than $40.
It should be noted at the outset that the percentage of French households with broadband in 2009 (57%) was less than the percentage of U.S. households (63%) according to statistics cited by the Federal Communications Commission.
There is a much stronger argument for unbundling in France – which lacks a fully-developed cable TV industry – than in the U.S. As the Berkman Center paper to which Porter’s column links notes on pages 266-68, DSL subscriptions – most of which ride France T�l�com’s network – make up 95% of all broadband connections in France. Cable constitutes approximately only 5% of the overall broadband market. Competition among DSL providers has produced lower prices for consumers, but at the expense of private investment in fiber networks.
Chairman Julius Genachowski of the Federal Communications Commission spoke of the need to reduce subsidies for traditional wireline telephone service last week, as well as a perceived need for his agency to use the savings to subsidize broadband services (see the press release and the text of the speech).
Genachowski is absolutely correct about the need for reforming universal service and intercarrier compensation. Unfortunately, his determination to reform telephone subsidies is not for the purpose of generating consumer savings, but about redirecting resources currently at his disposal for the purpose of gaining some measure of control over unregulated broadband networks. Though cleverly disguised, this is actually a third major attempt to (slowly) impose public utility regulation on broadband service providers.