FCC's Approach to Technology 'Siloed' and 'Antiquated,' Critics Say
As the Federal Communications Commission continues its work on expanding broadband access and adoption, some Washington insiders urge the agency to relax its regulatory approach as wireless and wireline technologies converge.
Tue, November 27, 2012
CIO — Every four years, as Washington goes through its quadrennial reshuffling with new committee assignments in Congress and a wave of departures across the executive branch, experts and advocates turn their attention to big-picture questions about major course corrections the feds could take to improve their policy work.
Such was the setting Tuesday at the Brookings Institution, where Internet-sector stakeholders and observers gathered to consider proposals for a substantive overhaul of the chief industry regulator, the Federal Communications Commission.
The springboard for the event is a forthcoming ebook that argues broadly for a far more limited role for the FCC, highlighting the agency's siloed and, the authors argue, antiquated, approach to converging technologies such as cable, wireline and wireless broadband, and making the case that regulations such as net neutrality have the perverse effect of chilling investment in broadband infrastructure.
To be sure, broadband has been the central issue on the FCC's agenda throughout the tenure of Chairman Julius Genachowski. And while there is broad agreement that expanding access and adoption of broadband service is a laudable and worthwhile goal, the consensus breaks down with the debate over the proper role for the regulatory agency in overseeing the industry.
Robert Litan, director of research with Bloomberg Government and a co-author of the forthcoming e-book, The Need for Speed, argued that the FCC has devoted too much attention to the quest for universal access, when a large majority of households already have access to at least one option for broadband.
Instead, he suggested that the market would be better served if the agency relaxed its regulatory system to encourage new buildouts in wireline and wireless broadband networks -- technologies which he believes are now squarely in competition with one another.
"The FCC is really missing the forest for the trees by not focusing on this competition issue," Litan said. He noted AT&T's recent announcement of plans to invest $14 billion over the next three years to expand its 4G LTE wireless network and its wireline broadband infrastructure, but suggested that such a commitment is the exception, rather than the rule, in today's regulatory environment.
"We believe that public policy should be focused primarily on removing the remaining regulatory barriers that prevent or that discourage other wireline providers from essentially doing what AT&T is doing, which is to expand service and provide competition in these areas that are served by only one provider," Litan said. "In particular we think that the FCC should focus on getting rid of barriers to wireless providers who have not been given their due."