It has been my painful experience that compromises rarely work and, all too often, they inevitably produce "solutions" that are far worse than the original problems. I'm sure you've had personal experience of this in selecting, say, the location of the annual family vacation. Need I say more?
In politics and in government, the art of the compromise is often invoked to introduce regulations and controls where none had existed previously. So it is with the litigious Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would like to extend parts of the 200-page 1996 Telecommunications Act to broadband Internet service providers (ISPs). This would be an attempted quick fix to allow the FCC to gain control of the ISPs. The FCC has long wanted to have effective control of the Internet. But the web does not require the "help" of the FCC to thrive and to respond rapidly to the needs of its users, both large and small.
Nonetheless, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is doggedly seeking a "third way" or middle ground between "heavy-handed, prescriptive regulation" and leaving consumers unprotected. How much rule-making is too little and how much is too much would be determined by the FCC, I suppose. But remember that broadband technology is developing at warp speed and the 1996 TA was pretty much obsolete the moment it was passed. So we can expect that a 2010 Telecommunications Act, should one come to pass, will take the rest of the decade to become effective. Another case of "too little too late."
Earlier this year, the FCC produced a weighty 350-page report, "National Broadband Plan" (details at www.broadband.gov). Clearly, the FCC sees itself as the leader of the pack in pushing broadband services into every home and business throughout the United States. But how will the "third way" morph into a workable national broadband service under the bureaucratic care of the FCC? Commissioner Genachowski is not saying—for the moment.
National Broadband is not simply another case of "If we build it, they will come." Okay, so the major common carriers can provide hundreds of digital channels into the home via satellite or fiber-optic links. Who needs all the NFL games at the same time? Who needs hundreds of celebrity blogs 24 × 7? When are the broadband ISPs going to realize that the winners in the broadband race are not the vendors who can push insane amounts of content down their pipes?
In my view, there will eventually be complete separation of transmission and content, no matter what form a national broadband network takes. And changes of content will come in leaps and bounds that are simply not predictable by the lumbering behemoths of today's phone, cable, and satellite companies. And, of course, the FCC will rapidly be reduced to the role of six tiny terriers yapping at the heels of the giant common carriers. I don't think that the FCC foresaw the coming of YouTube and the rapid growth of texting. How is the FCC going to lead the broadband Internet of the future?
Is the FCC a toothless regulator or a regular cop on the beat? The FCC can stir up the Internet industry by shooting off legal courtroom battles but by the time the suits are settled, the playing field will have changed and the parties involved will be left in the dust. Quite frankly, I expect that the FCC will be left gumming away at the National Broadband Plan that will end up as yet another idea whose time has come and gone. It's not the Internet that needs fixing, it's that toothless regulator, the FCC.