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FCC’s McDowell Warns of “Irreversible International Regulation”

The stakes of the U.S. communications policy debates are larger than many assume. Subjecting broadband to new and extensive regulation in the U.S., says FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell in today’s Wall Street Journal, could invite a regulatory ripple effect across the globe.

The FCC proposed in June to regulate broadband Internet access services using laws written for monopoly phone companies. Despite a four-decade bipartisan and international consensus to insulate computer-oriented communications from phone regulation, the FCC is headed toward classifying these complex 21st century technologies as “telecommunications services.” This could inadvertently trigger ITU and, ultimately, U.N. jurisdiction over parts of the Internet. Unlike at the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. has no veto power at the ITU and may not be able to stop it.

Such an outcome would fundamentally alter the Internet’s long-standing and successful self-governance model, where stakeholders from industry, academia, and yes, nations and NGOs, collaborate on technical, cultural, and economic matters. The ITU has been searching for ways to exert more “muscle” on the Net, and the possible U.S. action would appear to only strengthen the UN’s hand. As I wrote last week,

The worry is that the UN could become not a true forum for Internet advancement and cooperation but a murky bureaucracy that governments use to impose rules and taxes on others and to cloak their own illiberal regimes. The Internet is the true multilateral instrument of diversity, transparency, and cooperation, not the politicians groping for control in its name.

Or, as the FCC’s McDowell concludes:

The best way to keep the Internet open, operating and growing is to maintain the current model. We should continue to rely on the “bottom up” nongovernmental Internet governance bodies that have a perfect record of keeping the Web working.

Changing course now could trigger an avalanche of irreversible international regulation.

By Bret Swanson, President of Entropy Economics

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The US does have a veto power on ITU decisions Phillip Hallam-Baker  –  Jul 24, 2010 5:48 PM

The US has a very simple veto power over ITU decisions, as does every other member: they simply ignore the resolution.

The only form of Internet ‘regulation’ being contemplated in the US has to do with breaking up the last mile monopoly or duopoly that exists in most parts of the US. That in turn is a monopoly created by government regulation.

Europe has already addressed this issue by requiring unbundling of the local loop. That was also the approach of the Clinton administration. The Bush administration reversed course in the interests of protecting the monopoly holders.

There are serious issues of public policy here, should USG attempt to force unbundling, should monopolists have unrestricted exploitation rights or should there be regulation? Pretending that the US position is so desperately important as to be definitive in the context of the ITU is parochial and silly. The US should decide its domestic policy on the basis of what is best for the US, not what might be best to foil some supranational UN plot emanating from Geneva.

Unfortunately this mode of argument has a long history in the US. In the 18th century the supranational plot came from the dangerous ideas of the philosopher living down the road in Ferney. His dangerous idea was that people were created equal, slavery was evil and all sorts of bad and wrong enlightenment views. Voltaire himself was rather popular with many of the US founding fathers, so in order to discredit his anti-slavery views, the fiction was created that the enlightenment was part of a plot to create a new world order being managed by a group calling itself the illuminati. Glenn Beck carries on the same tradition today.

If the issue is precedent, the US has already conceded it. As has Europe which required unbundling in the 1990s.

The US should do what is right for the US domestically. In the 1990s that would have definitely been unbundling. However it is arguable that wireless technology such as WiMax may render that strategy obsolete.

Why is it that every effort to Michael Roberts  –  Jul 24, 2010 9:28 PM

Why is it that every effort to have rational dialogue about the minimum set of “level playing field” rules necessary to deal with market defects such as the last mile duopoly in broadband are polluted by extremists with misstatements of fact and vivid innuendoes that invoke the Apocalypse?  And from an FCC Commissioner no less!  Genachowski and co are bending over backward to fashion a “light touch” rule and getting nothing but nonsense partisanship in return. American style capitalism is reeling from trillions of dollars in damage inflicted on the public in the last few years, but you’d never know it from reading the WSJ.

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