The logical presumption associated with the madness of the FCC’s planned takeover of the Internet will be that service providers should be expected to cut back on fiber optic network investment to an absolute minimum, at least until litigation in the courts has been completed. It is also reasonable to conclude that the impact on purchasing of equipment by these carriers of net traffic will be even worse than what happened with the Telecommunications Act of 1996 in which the incumbent carriers were forced to unbundle their infrastructure. The expected Title II ruling is more detrimental because it is a demonstration of a federal agency, reflecting the overall plan of the current administration, which is behaving as if it has virtually boundless legal authority over Internet service providers.
Up until fairly recently, there was bipartisan support in the US for a more or less of a hands-off policy when it came to the Internet. In early 2014, an appellate court with the exception of the rather innocuous transparency rule affirmed knocking down a couple of the major tenets of the FCC’s Open Internet Order. Yet, even today, there would be universal support for no blocking legislation as part of an effort to deliver “net neutrality.”
However, while the rhetoric is about protecting the rights of consumers, the current effort is about the nationalization of the Internet based purely on ideological grounds. It is also about setting the stage for the US government to start taxing the web resulting in billions of dollars in new revenue because living within its means is never an option for Uncle Sam.
The idea that moving ISPs to Title II is in the interest of consumers is laughable. In not being allowed to charge large content companies a big premium, including in prioritizing their heavy amount of traffic, residential customers would be subject to much higher rates and their level of service would suffer greatly with real-time video transmission potentially becoming very difficult.
Certainly, it is no secret that many lawyers have no problem with advocating anti-discrimination policies on the web because they lack the understanding of the network engineering intricacies involved in making sure that packets do not get lost. Another commonly argued point is that extending Title II is unjustified because the Internet does not involve a situation with a natural monopoly as was the case with the old Ma Bell – there is widespread access across the country to several choices including cable, DSL, wireless, and satellite.
As an aside, it is not hard to realize why companies like Sprint and Charter Communications are showing some support for the new regulations. It will be a means of undercutting the progress of their much bigger competitors.
As if the US were led by a repressive regime, the 332-page document will be not be released to the public until the vote by the FCC commissioners takes place on February 26th. Critics of the new regulations accurately describe it as a massive power grab by the federal government in order to solve non-existent problems. Providers of Internet service will simply not stand for being told how their networks should be built and managed.
Combined with the effects of cyberattacks addressed in our last blog article, the fiber optic industry faces a double whammy that is historically unprecedented in its negative impact. The amazing aspect is that in a representative democracy, it only in effect takes one person, the Chairman of the FCC, to put a policy into place that will significantly undermine the Internet economy, which has by and large been a tremendous success story.
[written by Mark Lutkowitz]