The first panel discussion during Monday’s FCC hearing in Cambridge provided a useful summary of the first stages of what will be/already is a much bigger battle.
I think it would be a good idea to raise the stakes in this discussion. Even the most pro-public interest of the five commissioners, Cmmr. Copps, talks only about a case-by-case adjudication by the FCC of the “rules of the road” for “reasonable network management.” But that won’t get us faster, more open high-speed internet access. Commr. Adelstein makes more headway – he’s suggesting that we need to explore a “comprehensive solution” for this issue. Commr. McDowell, by contrast, slides way way back, saying internet access is (to him) “new media” that is mostly made up of people passively watching video. Even Vuze asks only for better disclosures of network management practices.
Although nothing goes away, it seems to me that these older “media” modalities of cable and telephone “services” are melting gradually (like the Wicked Witch of the West) into simple transport of bits. (Broadcast has melted into cable and scarcely counts as a separate category any more.)
Now, these modalities, these silos don’t want this, don’t have any use for such a change, and so they are hanging on to friction, management, control – and they’re saying that self-regulatory efforts are all that is needed to ensure that the public interest is served by their management efforts. We know they’re competing with the internet. They want to stay “media” companies and avoid commoditization. They’ve got enough market power to make this happen, and if the system can stay just about the way it is until the people inside these silos reach retirement age, that’s a fine goal.
Will we have a future shaped by the choices of these particular informational gatekeepers? Or will we have a general-purpose network that anyone can use for his/her own reasons? Will we replicate the models of the past, just because we’re used to them?
The witnesses keep talking about “services” – but these aren’t services, this is just access, transport, commodity roads on which unimaginable complexity can flourish. These gatekeepers have every interest in maintaining scarcity, when we could have abundance – with an injection of leadership, national planning, and will.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. The idea of keeping these networks subject to nondiscrimination obligations isn’t some crazy newfangled heavyhanded overreach – it’s the way we have run communications for hundreds of years. These are communications networks (or should be), transport functions – not “media.” We subject communications networks to regulation for the good of all; if we hadn’t acted that way, the internet would never have come into being. (Remember, the internet is not the same thing as the World Wide Web – it’s a logical architecture for transport, not a vessel from which we download streams.) If these few duopolist actors get away with “management,” the promise of the internet will not be fulfilled.
*Cross-posted from [Susan Crawford blog](http://scrawford.net/blog).*