I have the privilege of serving as a new Republican Commissioner at the FCC. Every day, I walk into a building where people think about technology policy. However, outside of a small policy community, few people seem to realize just how crucial tech policy is, and will be, to our nation’s future.
To his credit, RedState’s Neil Stevens has recognized this and done yeoman’s work in raising awareness of tech policy through his Tech At Night series. Neil understands that our economy and society will be shaped—or reshaped—by communications issues like the Internet transformation, spectrum policy, and the scope of the FCC’s regulatory authority. These issues are as important as they are complex, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to discuss them with you here at RedState from time to time.
Today, let’s talk about the Internet transformation. This is really two different things—a technology revolution and a regulatory transition. The technology revolution already is well underway, but the regulatory transition is still struggling to get started. This should tell you something about the (in)ability of regulators to keep up with markets.
The technology revolution is obvious to every American. The Internet has enabled more innovation in just a few years than highly regulated telephone networks did in a century. We used to make telephone calls over copper wire networks run by monopoly providers. But today, we are moving to a world where voice, video, and data are transmitted through IP (Internet Protocol)-based networks, and consumers can obtain these services through cable companies, traditional telephone companies, wireless carriers, or other competitors.
The regulatory transition is less visible, but crucial. The Internet transformation depends on simple, reliable rules and prompt, transparent decisions by regulatory agencies. It also depends upon the government discarding outdated 20th century regulations in favor of a more modern, deregulatory framework for a competitive, all-IP world.
The temptation to overregulate new technologies is strong. It’s also misguided. Today, everyone would agree that it would be absurd for the government to require an automobile to be preceded by a person carrying a red flag to warn people that a car was coming. Or worse, imagine if regulators required motorists to stop, disassemble their vehicle, and conceal the parts in bushes if the car frightened a passing horse. The first actually happened at the dawn of the automobile age—they were called Red Flag Laws—and the second nearly happened, passing the Pennsylvania state legislature unanimously, only to be stopped by the Governor’s veto.
That same regulatory impulse is still with us today. In the midst of a game-changing Internet transformation, regulators are debating how to control progress with monopoly-era telephone rules. They are mulling over how to expand cable television regulations that predate the existence of the Internet and have no place in an all-IP world. This impulse calls to mind the last scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “You’re still here? It’s over. Go home. Go.”
Whether it is at the federal, state, or local government level, we cannot afford to apply old-world regulations like price controls, corporate subsidies, and common-carrier regulation (otherwise known as Title II regulation) to the Internet. If regulators treat the Internet like a newfangled telephone network, that is the network we will get. We can and must do better.
These are the stakes of the Internet transformation. In my work at the FCC, I am focusing on creating a regulatory environment that will encourage companies to innovate and invest in the IP networks of the future. We need to repeal scores of outdated regulations so that they cannot be brought into an all-IP world, and we have to respect the limitations on the authority that Congress has given us. If we get this right, all Americans will enjoy the benefits of this remarkable technological revolution.
Thanks for letting me share my perspective. You can read more about my views on the IP transition in a speech I gave at Carnegie Mellon University, and you also can see my other speeches and statements. I want to help people understand the issues we are facing, so I hope we can do this again. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter at @ajitpaifcc.