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February 18, 2015

All Politics are Local, Even for Federal Agencies

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai’s recent statement rebutting President Obama’s analysis of Internet Regulation points out some issues in Washington, D.C. While the Commissioner tells a great story that more than 76 percent of American households are located where three or more fixed broadband providers are located, I would bet that few get to see as competitive a landscape as we see in commercials from wireless operators.

In addition, the focus on the fixed players skews the conversation before we even get to the hard part of the problem. And what is the hard part of the problem?

If you want carriers, to compete, but don’t want them to make speed a competitive advantage, what kind of a marketplace are we trying to establish?

We have no problems with some apps being bundled on our smart phones, but if a bundle happens on fixed networks, the net neutrality placards come out and you have the press looking for a “perp walk.”

The boogey men of monopolies and taxes are in a Mexican standoff in Washington, and Commissioner Pai’s comments highlight the issue.

The local politics of Washington are supposed to be a microcosm of the entire American population, but instead, they take on their own unique look and feel.

I am going to suggest a somewhat more radical idea: I think the FTC and the FCC should hold a joint meeting to discuss how each of them sees the possible pitfalls of Internet Regulation.

In itself it should be interesting, since the FTC is normally the one that tries to block monopolies, while the FCC’s history is to be the one that often has to monitor them.

I do not envy either Commission’s task. The FCC has court cases waiting for almost every Memorandum Order and Opinion they make, and the FTC has everything from international trade issues to Internet of Things on its plate.

However, if the Commissioners don’t show some expertise, Congress (the most local constituent for the Commissions) will, in an attempt to govern, redefine rules that should be left alone.

Since the Commissions are part of the executive branch, there is a tendency in Congress to manage by budget or by additional regulatory specification.

When it comes to Internet, a comprehensive view is needed.


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