Wall Street Journal Open Internet Reporter Has a Grip; Editorial and Opinion Pages — Not So Much

November 12, 2014

If the FCC ends up deferring to common sense and classifies landline Internet access as a telecommunications service, most advocates for that move support use of only a few core provisions of Title II of our existing telecom laws.   A routine procedure called “forbearance” allows the agency to eschew all of “the tariffs, rate bases, price caps and other chokeholds” that yesterday’s Wall Street Journal opinion piece refers to.   Those provisions are indeed more appropriate for monopoly telephone service than for Internet access.

The suggested notion of Internet as a public utility is also misleading since it implies public ownership of network facilities — which nobody ever has proposed in the effort to safeguard open Internet access.   Rather, the idea is that, with so little competition in the private access connectivity business, duopoly Internet access providers must be prevented from acting as gatekeepers of our content and online service choices.

The Journal piece describes how water utilities “engineer shortages” in order to raise rates, and how if Internet access is considered telecommunications, the network providers will do the same thing and slow innovation.   Problem is, our largest network providers are already allowing greater congestion precisely so that they can cash in on the resulting scarcity by charging popular websites like Netflix new access tolls for the same last mile delivery we already pay for in our monthly broadband subscriptions. These engineered shortages are one reason why so many millions of people support Open Internet rules.

Of course, in Kansas City and Austin, Texas where Google Fiber has shown up to offer just a 3rd competitive option for high speed broadband, the incumbent cable and telephone providers do not play these games.   In fact they end up investing in more fiber of their own to meet the competition. That’s the recipe for a real free market.   But don’t hold your breath, because the economic barriers to entry are so high that almost nobody even attempts such competitive fiber build-out.

WSJ Opinion posits: “Imagine if Uber had to petition the FCC to ask for your location…” This statement is clearly preposterous. First, the FCC does not know your location and cannot find it out even if you’re a fugitive or terrorist. They are not a law enforcement agency or the NSA.   Open Internet advocates have not even hinted the FCC should somehow try to take on such powers.   The real world scary question is “What if Uber had to petition Verizon to communicate with you or ask your location?” Currently no rules prevent Verizon from striking a deal with a competing online ride sharing service and blocking or degrading Uber’s data traffic.

In contrast to this drivel, the Wall Street Journal reporter covering this issue, while by no means favoring end users’ interest in an open Internet, at least demonstrates a far greater understanding of the subject matter.   He treats seriously the threat of broadband providers choosing winner and loser websites to benefit their own commercial bottom line, and the straightforward solution of classifying Internet access as telecommunications.   Good for him.

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