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Experts call for deregulation at the FCC

Grant Gross | Nov. 28, 2012
Lawmakers should downsize the U.S. Federal Communications Commission by taking away its power to review mergers in the telecom industry and most of its power to pass regulations before evidence of a problem, two telecom experts said Tuesday.

Panelist James Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs, targeted the FCC's 2010 net neutrality order as an example of regulation without major evidence of a problem.

"The commission would be wise to focus its regulations going forward on actual problems in the market, rather than hypotheticals," Cicconi said. "They should be hinging their regulations on actual data based on actual problems and not on hypotheticals dreamed up by some advocacy group."

But there's little evidence that the FCC's net neutrality rule has hurt telecom investment, said Blair Levin, a communications and policy fellow at the Aspen Institute and lead author of the FCC's 2010 national broadband plan. Levin questioned whether the proposed policy of the FCC regulating on a case-by-case basis would help investment or lead to more uncertainty among investors.

As telecom carriers move to all-IP networks, the FCC will need to provide a road map for consumers and providers, Levin added. "I hope the commission lays out a clear path, rather than just addressing things when problems arise," he said.

Others questioned proposals to take away power from the FCC. Broadband content and services are changing, but government oversight of telecom and broadband is still needed, said Matt Wood, policy director of Free Press, a digital rights group.

"What hasn't changed is the fact that a few providers still control these networks, with companies like AT&T and Verizon dominating the wireless space and cable controlling most of the high speed connections into people's homes," he said by email. "These giant corporations have the same incentives and the same ability they've always had to freeze out any innovation or competition that might cut into their own profits."

The coming transition to all-IP networks is a good time to review telecom regulation, added John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney for Public Knowledge.

"But there's nothing about IP vs. switched networks, or fiber vs. copper ... that reduces the odds of communications markets becoming monopolistic or oligopolistic, or makes carriers behave in less self-interested ways," he said by email. "Last-mile bottlenecks present similar problems whether they're coaxial, copper telephone wires, or fiber, and small carriers face the same build-out and interconnection challenges regardless of their particular technology."



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