The New York Times ran an op-ed today by 5 academics urging the FCC to adopt European Union (EU)-style transparency regulation rather than so-called “heavy-handed” net neutrality regulation that would ensure that US telephone and cable companies providing Internet access don’t pick winners and losers. In an argument we hear often from those companies, the academics suggest that so long as a consumer knows what its Internet access provider is doing, the customer can simply change providers if he or she doesn’t like it.
What the authors conveniently fail to mention is that competition is robust in many EU countries because of regulatory policies that require an Internet access provider to share its facilities with competitors. The Berkman Center at Harvard Law School pointed this out in its comprehensive, but largely ignored (by the FCC) report that looked at broadband deployment and adoption around the world. The United Kingdom, France, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden are among the EU countries cited in the report that have adopted “open access” policies.
But the U.S. doesn’t have that kind of competition, largely because we eliminated those same open access policies in the early aughts. As a result, most Americans have a choice of only two broadband access providers – a cable or a telephone company. In addition, unlike the EU, where there are no monetary penalties for switching broadband access providers, most U.S. companies impose such penalties. It doesn’t do an American Internet user any good if your Internet access provider tells you it is playing favorites when your choices are so limited and you can suffer financial penalties for switching.
The academics also neglect to mention that just last week, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes expressed her support for net neutrality and is looking at whether the European Commission should adopt net neutrality regulations similar to what is being discussed at the FCC. Indeed, France has already started an inquiry on the matter. That may be because the EU has long recognized that proper regulation can protect the public interest and that Internet access providers’ efforts to change the fundamentally democratic nature of the Internet are too important to leave to the so-called “free market.”
So we’re happy to move the FCC towards European-style telecom regulation. Think the academics will join us?