Should Regulation be Technology Neutral?

Communications regulators always face issues when technology changes are rapid, the common complaint being that regulation lags technology change by quite some measure.

As the U.S. Federal Communications Commission says, “the fixed broadband industry continues to evolve.” For that reason, the FCC has issued a notice of inquiry on whether internet access should include both fixed and mobile delivery modes, and be tracked as a routine matter when assessing the state of internet access.

The proposal will raise hackles in some instances. Precisely at the point in time when we know gigabit and multi-gigabit internet access will be routinely supplied by mobile and fixed wireless networks operated by mobile service providers, some will say we should not “count” such access when assessing the state of the market.

In other words, the proposed FCC  “technology neutral approach” would continue to view access platforms in silos. That problem is not new. Even if there are important nuances, should legacy voice and VoIP not both be counted a methods for delivering voice services? And should cable modem services be counted separately from telco access services, since the platforms are different?

Are SONET-based data access solutions qualitatively different from Ethernet-based services, in terms of “counting” the usage of business data services?

Even if they use different technologies, are analog private branch exchange lines or trunks in service fundamentally different from IP equivalents?

Is digital TV something different from analog TV, or are both TV services, for purposes of measuring adoption and usage?

You get the point: technology change now is quite rapid in every communications and content delivery areas. And there are good reasons for using “technology neutral” methods of data collection and assessment.

Otherwise, voice, video or internet access delivered by satellite, cable TV, telco or independent ISPs are “different,” and not “parts of a single market.”

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