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Regulation’s Forked Path into the Future

Regulation’s Forked Path into the Future

Brookings’ TechTank offers a thoughtful piece, Mobile broadband regulation and net neutrality: One network or two? that highlights one of the biggest challenges in evolving communications policy: whether the old public switched telephone network and the Internet are parallel systems or parts of a larger ubiquitous network environment. Recently a the three-judge panel considered this matter as part of the Feb. 2015 Open Internet Order, in which one of the judges asked an intriguing question:

In the oral argument, Judge Sri Srinivasan posed a question to a lawyer representing CTIA-The Wireless Association, which opposes the FCC order. In effect, he asked whether the Commission’s view of functional equivalency of the telephone networks and the Internet made sense at a practical level, with a vivid illustration in mind: “So if I’m walking in my house with an iPad — at one end of the hall I connect to my Wi-Fi, at the other end, my device switches over to my wireless subscription — did Congress really intend these two services to be regulated totally differently even if I can’t tell the difference?” Under this analysis, the FCC’s argument that it should enforce equal net neutrality for both seems intuitively persuasive.

While reasonable judges may argue that point, technologies do not wait. For example, the Internet of Things, expected to contribute up to $11 trillion in value per year by 2025,* will impact our inter-networks in unforeseeable ways. Networks continue to evolve and our needs will diversify, making an appropriately forward-looking approach to regulations increasingly important.

Recommended reading: The “Omnibus” Appropriations Bill — What It Means for Telecommunications & Media Policy at Benton Foundation, Robbie’s Round-Up (December 21-25, 2015). It’s a great overview of a lot of changes.

* If you’re looking for a little light holiday reading on policy and the Internet of Things, you might find this report of interest: Why Countries Need National Strategies for the Internet of Things. The summary:

The Internet of Things offers many opportunities to grow the economy and improve quality of life. Just as the public sector was instrumental in enabling the development and deployment of the Internet, it must play a similar role to ensure the success of the Internet of Things. Therefore, national governments should create comprehensive national strategies for the Internet of Things to ensure that the technology develops cohesively and rapidly, that consumers and businesses do not face barriers to adoption, and that both the private and public sector take full advantage of the coming wave of smart devices.

Here’s the report (PDF). Happy holidays!