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Regulation

Objecting to Obsolete Obligations

The Washington Post's lead story today, "Landline Rules Frustrate Telecoms," puts a needed spotlight on obsolete communications law that: falsely assumes the telecom marketplace is still a monopoly with no consumer choice; and still mandates telecom companies subsidize below-cost, copper-line telephone service to households as if it were still a government-sanctioned monopoly.

A bit of history is warranted here. This century-old political arrangement -- the 1913 Kingsbury Commitment between the Federal Government and AT&T -- effectively established a government-sanctioned monopoly in return for universal telephone service to all Americans and utility rate of return regulation. In 1996, Congress reformed Federal communications policy by ending monopoly and promoting competition. Today, despite copper telephone networks losing half of their customer base to cable, wireless, VoIP, broadband and other Internet competitors (and losing most of their most profitable landline customers) many legacy telecom legal requirements, like subsidized below-cost telephone service, live on despite being obsolete. This means that in today's fiercely competitive voice service marketplace, mandating that only one provider must provide subsidized below-cost, copper-line service to potentially millions of households, is a classic un-funded mandate and a hidden, unfair, investment-distorting business tax on only one competitor.

T-Mobile to FCC: Give us a Do-Over and Verizon's Cable Spectrum Too

T-Mobile demanded last week that the FCC deny the Verizon-Cable spectrum license transfer, apparently so Deutsche Telecom/T-Mobile could get it at a deep FCC managed-market discount.

The FCC is not Deutsche Telecom/T-Mobile's personal do-over button that they can push and magically reset the marketplace to an earlier time more to their liking. All other players have made market-driven decisions and have to live with them, and so should Deutsche Telecom/T-Mobile. That's the essence of free-market competition, companies move forward or backward based on their own market-driven choices. It's not competition or a market, if those who don't like the outcome of their own market decisions, run to government for a do over and quasi-international bail-out.

Let's review how T-Mobile got to this point.

For years T-Mobile has been a seller of its spectrum; because its parent Deutsche Telecom has long wanted to exit the U.S. market because it requires more capital investment than they are willing or financially able to expend.

The FCC's Visible Hand Picked Job Losers in Blocking AT&T-T-Mobile

T-Mobile's announcement of 1,900 job layoffs is an unfortunate real world consequence of the FCC overreaching its authority, breaking precedent, and disregarding FCC procedure in releasing an unapproved and biased staff report, in order to politically block the AT&T-T-Mobile merger just a few months ago.

A pillar of the FCC's political justification for blocking the AT&T-T-Mobile merger was that FCC staff did not believe the companies' analysis of the effect on jobs with and without approval of the merger. The FCC rejected AT&T's commitment to bring 5,000 call center jobs back to the U.S., if the merger was approved. In rejecting the merger and its job creating commitments and analysis, the FCC helped cause these particular 1,900 call center jobs to be lost at T-Mobile. That's because the FCC staff, (who admit to not having no expertise in this area) claim to know better than an employer of over a quarter of a million people how new jobs are created in today's marketplace.

Verizon-Cable Hearing Exposes Weakness of Opposition

 

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the proposed Verizon-Cable spectrum sale flushed out the opposition's best arguments and evidence and they proved surprisingly weak and sparse.

Behind the façade of FreePress' trademark bumper-sticker bluster of "a competition crisis," "a creeping duopoly," and "spectrum warehousing," there was very little substance to back up their pejorative assertions.

FreePress' bogus duopoly deception is the core weakness of the opposition to this commercial agreement. To believe there is a Verizon-AT&T wireless duopoly, one has to:

Verizon-Cable Senate Hearing - Competitive Reality vs. FreePress Fiction

 

Hopefully, the March 21st Senate Judiciary Subcommittee oversight hearing on the Verizon-Cable spectrum transaction will be a fair hearing based on the competitive facts and the law, and is not allowed to be hijacked politically by FreePress' signature gamesmanship.

I. FreePress Fiction

It is disturbing that two of the three hearing witnesses opposing the Verizon-Cable agreement are from FreePress: Joel Kelsey, FreePress' Policy Advisor and Tim Wu, who was FreePress' Chairman just thirteen months ago and has been a longtime FreePress board member.

It is curious and troubling that the Senate Subcommittee specializing in "competition policy" would seek testimony from two anti-profit, anti-property-rights adherents who don't believe competition policy can work.

 

Debunking the Carping over Broadband Usage-Pricing

Activist carping about the commercial Internet being commercial is revving up again, this time with the carping focused on framing new broadband usage-pricing innovations by Time Warner Cable and AT&T, as somehow a violation of the "open web."

To cut to the quick and translate what is really going on politically here, this activist carping is the latest attempt to revive and re-fight the manufactured net neutrality debate between:

Why the Verizon-Cable Agreement is in the Public Interest

 

The evidence below shows the Verizon-Cable agreement is clearly in the public interest, if the FCC fairly reviews the agreement and all of the relevant facts, in the full context of the highly competitive wireless ecosystem.

Top Reasons Why Verizon-Cable Agreement is in the Public Interest

Increases competition: The agreement increases competition because it enables:

 

Spotlighting Threat of UN Regulation of Internet at CPAC Today

I will  be on the CPAC Digital Liberty panel today with FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, Kelly Cobb of ATR and Ryan Radia of CEI.

The very important sleeper issue I expect we will spotlight for the CPAC audience is the imminent threat to the Internet from a China/Russia-led effort to get the United Nations' International Telecommunications Union to regulate the Internet similar to the way they regulate telephony and postal service, via a renegotiation of the treaty that affects telecommunications in Dubai in December 2012.

UN regulation of the Internet would kill the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg, by locking in the past and making innovation difficult in the future.

This is a not so subtle effort to undermine and slow America's high tech innovation leadership in the world by miring U.S. Internet companies in the ITU regulatory swamp.

UN regulation of the Internet is a big, under-appreciated, looming threat to freedom and economic growth.

FCC Seeks Unbounded Spectrum Auction Authority

At CES, the FCC signaled that it opposed any effort by Congress to give the FCC policy direction or to establish any checks and balances on the FCC in authorizing incentive auctions of prime TV broadcast spectrum.

See my Forbes Tech Capitalist post "FCC Seeks Unbounded Spectrum Auction Authority" to see why the the FCC's lack of regulatory humility here is so stunning.

Does FCC Want to Become The Federal Video Programming Commission?

This week an FCC Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ordered Comcast to carry The Tennis Channel in the same tier and channel neighborhood as The Golf Channel and Versus, another sports channel.  

  • Given the deep flaws in the ALJ's highly-intrusive, and micro-managing decision, there are several good reasons the FCC should overturn the ALJ's decision upon appeal.

1.  Implements Obsolete Law: The section of law at issue here, Section 616 of the 1992 Cable Act, is predicated on early 1990s market conditions of cable being a monopoly video distributor with large ownership interests in cable channels. Two decades later, that market assessment predicate is obsolete as cable now has only 60% of the video distribution market and dramatically less ownership interests in cable channels. At core the FCC has to decide if it is fair, sound or legitimate competition policy to completely ignore current competition facts.

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Q&A One Pager Debunking Net Neutrality Myths