It is hard to argue with FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s assertion that broadband is an unprecedented, transformative technology that has changed the lives of billions and will be the most central technology to the economy and public’s health and welfare ever. So we won’t.
Does the government have a role to play in ensuring this platform is not used to hurt competition, steal info from our accounts and stifle expression? Of course. Does it have an obligation to try and ensure that everyone has access to that transformative technology? Yes—lack of access becomes a regressive tax on those who can least afford it.
But good people can, and clearly do, disagree on what government’s role should be and on how to achieve those goals without discouraging the private enterprise that has built out broadband to virtually everyone, and high-speed, even at the new 25 Mbps standard, to a majority of Americans. Even the FCC concedes 80% of the U.S. has access to at least that speed. Yes, the other 20% are important. But since when did the FCC start worrying about percentages?
On another topic, it has lately seemed ready to throw the minority of over-the-air-only viewers under the bus in its rush to reclaim spectrum for wireless.
Now, the FCC has proposed classifying web access under Title II regs, a move many see as bringing endless lawsuits.
Were the FCC’s new 25 Mbps standard speed target truly an aspirational exercise, everyone could support it. But tied to a broad grant of Sec. 706 authority, it becomes a way to endlessly justify new regulation without having to make, as the NCTA pointed out, a reasoned assessment of the market. There are similar questions about whether Title II is the best way to go, and just why the FCC decided to go there.
Invoking the importance of broadband should not automatically end debate on how large a role the government should have, a debate that will only heat up after the FCC’s recent actions.