Wednesday, January 21, 2015

21st century needs new regulation for a new generation of telecommunications services

A major contributing factor to the current crisis over how to regulate Internet-based telecommunications is the passage of time. Lots of it. It's been more than four generations -- 80 years -- since the United States enacted the Communications Act of 1934 regulating telephone service as a common carrier utility.

A 1996 update of the statute incorporated Internet services. But they were so new then regulators -- the Federal Communications Commission -- didn't consider them as a common carrier telecommunications service. Internet was an optional additional service, accessed by special connections made over slow dial up modems to specialized information services such as CompuServe and America Online. Now two decades later, it serves as a all purpose telecommunications service providing data, voice and video over Internet protocol (IP).

In a little more than a month's time, the FCC will decide whether to regulate IP services as a common carrier utility under Title II of the Communications Act. Indications are it will do so -- most likely for landline delivered, premise Internet service. Along with the designation come rules designed to ease and promote the construction of infrastructure to serve all premises and not just selected ones as is the case under the present regulatory policy.

Twentieth century legacy telephone and cable companies have built their business models based on the current policy, models that will be disrupted with the shift toward regulating the Internet as a common carrier utility that must be offered to all and not just some Americans.

But out of disruption comes business opportunity for a generation of new providers. The federal government should put in place meaningful technical assistance and funding -- and not just "funding leads" given the importance of Internet infrastructure -- to help the new Internet telecommunications providers of the 21st century become established and financially viable for the long term.

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