Great piece from Ben Thompson, although I don’t agree with his conclusions.
The argument that we don’t want “such a dysfunctional government” regulating broadband is weak: “the government” isn’t one big coordinated bogeyman that can’t be trusted with anything. That’s just rhetoric that politicians1 use to avoid regulation so corporations can make more money at the expense of the citizens or environment. In practice, governmental regulation works so well in most cases that it’s taken for granted and too boring for most people to even think about.
I also don’t buy the position put forward by the big broadband companies that regulation would hurt their ability to “innovate”. Innovation is almost certainly not what we want from our ISPs: introducing artificial limitations on cheaper plans, pushing normal service to higher prices, transitioning from monthly to annual contracts with zero consumer benefit, and bundling services you don’t want with your internet service are all considered “innovation” to an ISP. “Innovation” makes them more money or adds proprietary services so they aren’t dumb pipes.
We definitely don’t want any of that. We want our ISPs to be as boring as possible. Dumb pipes are exactly what ISPs should offer, and that’s what common-carrier regulation would maintain.
What we do need is continued coverage expansion and speed increases, but this has nothing to do with common-carrier classification. At all. It’s just political drama so they can avoid regulation and make more money. The big ISPs have always trotted out weak sob stories about needing zero regulation so they can keep expanding service, but these are really threats to the American people and government. “Give us everything we want, or we’ll hold broadband hostage.” They’ve always done whatever they wanted whenever it was convenient and profitable. And it’s very profitable.
What’s most damning to their argument is that they’ve all acted within common-carrier boundaries anyway for most of broadband’s existence, with very few exceptions, and they continue to make record profits, expand service (mostly), and increase speeds. Common-carrier regulation would simply prevent some very harmful “innovations” that the ISPs have, to date, never needed to remain profitable and keep expanding.
Don’t believe their bullshit. They’d be perfectly fine as common carriers. Almost nothing would change from the way they’ve always operated.
Usually Republicans, but Democrats certainly do their share of shamelessly serving big corporations at our expense, too. ↩︎