Monday, April 06, 2015

Remarks from Chairman Boucher, Commissioner Ohlhausen, and Commissioner Tate at FSF's 'Future of the Internet' Conference

The videos are up from the Free State Foundation’s seventh annual telecom policy conference entitled “The Future of the Internet: Free Market Innovation or Government Control?” The distinguished series of panels and speakers delivered insightful discussions and statements on various issues within telecommunications policy.
In one of the sessions, Free State Foundation President Randolph May had the privilege of speaking with a panel which included Honorary Chair of the Internet Innovation Alliance and former Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and the Internet Rick Boucher, FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen, and FSF Distinguished Adjunct Senior Fellow and former FCC Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate. The conversation covered many aspects of the FCC’s recent Open Internet order and the Commission’s regulatory authority.
In her opening statement (around the 8-minute mark of the video), Commissioner Tate listed all of the issues that FCC’s Open Internet order does not address. Despite having 400 pages of regulations, she said that the FCC’s Open Internet order does not:
  • Provide broadband to all citizens
  • Try to reach the most rural, remote, or tribal lands
  • Ensure that schools have the broadband connections they need for our global educational competitiveness
  • Provide cybersecurity or trusted environments
  • Encourage investment, innovation, or infrastructure expansion
  • Streamline government regulations or make them easy to understand
  • Reduce costs, whether that be direct costs or indirect costs
  • Make data driven decisions

Commissioner Tate then added:
These are all the things that I believe the Commission should be focused on, whether it's cybersecurity, incentivizing private investment, ensuring that our education is globally competitive, certainly providing broadband to our entire nation, and of course reducing the costs to consumers. Those are the areas I think we should be concentrating on. I don’t think this [Open Internet] order does any of these.
In his opening statement (around 11:45 in the video), Chairman Boucher said that the FCC’s Open Internet order is the not correct way to solve Network Neutrality issues. He said:
I’m just going to endorse the statement Commissioner Pai made when he said effectively [the Open Internet order] is using a sledgehammer to hit a nail.
In today’s modern broadband world [with] multimedia [and] many competitors in the space, this [Commission action] is truly a poor fit.
Chairman Boucher then said that Congressional legislation regarding Network Neutrality is the only way to finally put an end to this decade-long debate. He added:
The Title II guarantees for Network Neutrality are highly impermanent. They really rest on a bed of sand. They literally can be swept away in the next presidential election, which in time would create a 3-2 Republican majority in the FCC. And one can be relatively certain that an early order of business for an FCC with a 3-2 Republican majority would be to reclassify broadband as a Title I, lightly-regulated information service.
So the Democrats are, at the moment, celebrating what is a temporary victory. 
Now, the Republicans, ten years after the start, have come to the point where they are saying to Democrats, ‘we will provide the Network Neutrality assurances from the 2010 Open Internet order.’ They have offered that and Democrats should seize that victory.
In her opening remarks (about 23 minutes into the video), Commissioner Ohlhausen showed concern that the FCC’s regulatory overreach will adversely impact the effectiveness of the FTC. She added:
I’m concerned that moving ahead [the Open Internet order] might create some challenges for the FTC to be able to continue to protect consumers online in the way it’s so actively and efficiently done until now.
Given the troubling, very broad language of the FCC’s order, [the FCC] will, at the very least, take up a lot of the FTC’s resources, and perhaps, shut us out of some of the very active consumer protection we’ve been able to do.
Around the 35-minute mark of the video, Chairman Boucher said “Congress created the FCC to be an independent agency and to exercise its independence apart from policy positions announced by the administration.” He then talked about President Obama’s unprecedented announcement in support Title II reclassification and why it is unfortunate that this announcement impacted the FCC’s rulemaking:
In the 25 years that I was a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and served for virtually all of that time on what we use to call the Telecommunications and Finance Subcommittee…I can’t remember a single time in that quarter of a century period when any president, Democratic or Republican, was as explicitly directive of the FCC as President Obama chose to be. I think it really is extraordinary. And frankly, I was quite surprised.
I think the White House involvement made a difference. I think it’s unfortunate. It is extraordinary. And to come back to the precise question you ask, yes, I think it does put in question the extent to which the Commission is truly going to be able to function as an independent body in those instances where the White House announces such clear determination with regard to any particular issue the Commission’s considering.
About 44 minutes into the video, Commissioner Ohlhausen talked about the vast transformation that has occurred in the communications market over the past couple decades. She said that we’ve seen broadband and telecommunications transform from highly concentrated markets to very competitive ones and that such a transformation has allowed antitrust and consumer protection to become useful tools for addressing the occasional problems that might arise.
Commissioner Tate subsequently added to this point. While holding up a news article, she stated:
I have actually brought the headline that the FTC is suing AT&T for throttling, so the FTC is already involved in many of these issues. They have so much of the expertise, as Maureen so eloquently stated, to be able to protect us, consumers!
Commissioner Tate also added that the FCC’s Open Internet order has huge problems “from the individual to the international,” and not to mention that states will be able to use Title II reclassification to levy taxes, fees, and additional rules on Internet Service Providers.
Towards the end of the discussion (around the 54-minute mark of the video), Chairman Boucher discussed how the FCC’s Open Internet order could adversely impact applications, such as Facebook and Twitter:
It seems to me that any application that has any kind of two-way communication component could very well now be classified as a telecommunications service and fall under the ambit of Title II regulation.
Chairman Boucher concluded that the uncertainty about the extent to which applications will regulated by the FCC “is going to have a major adverse effect on investment, and not just investment in the broadband sphere but investment among edge providers.”
The FCC’s Open Internet Order was a popular topic at the conference but other topics such as video policy, spectrum auctions, and universal service were also discussed. Check out and subscribe to the Free State Foundation’s YouTube page for more videos from the conference and past events.