Internet Regulation needs a Time Warp

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The Science Fiction genre is full of time/space travel stories.  For fans of my generation, who can forget Marty McFly and Doc going back to the future (The DeLorean)!!

Internet Regulation cannot be back dated

Internet Regulation may require time travel

Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity stipulates that time travel into the future is possible, all one would need to do is travel faster than the speed of light.  Unfortunately, the same paper seems to indicate it is not possible to travel at the speed of light – bummer!

OK, so why is time travel solution?  It came to me today reading this article (here) regarding the FCC proposal to redefine some over-the-top (OTT) video providers as multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), at a minimum to qualify for nondiscriminatory access to programming.  The concept behind the proposal is to give over-the top providers offering an online service that mimics a linear cable offering the same FCC-enforced access to vertically integrated programming.  Why, so the FCC can regulate them too, of course.

Similar to the current proposals for Internet regulation, the FCC is trying to figure out how best to get its hands on regulatory powers to enforce its vision on the Internet by using existing powers.  In this case, the existing regulations, Title II of the Communications Act and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act come from regulations enacted in 1934 and 1996 respectively (see The FCC’s authority to enforce Net Neutrality).

It is not even clear at the moment which agency will emerge as the Internet regulator with the FTC recently throwing their hat into the ring when they went after AT&T (see FTC sues AT&T for ‘deceptive’ and ‘unfair’ data throttling).

The big problem is that the FCC is trying to squeeze a square block into a round (black) hole.  The Internet cannot be taken back to the future with antiquated regulations, ever-so-slightly adapted so regulators can get their hands on the space.  The concept of requiring OTT Video providers to stream linear video programming just so they fall under the FCC jurisdiction is ludicrous.  If this isn’t the tail wagging the dog then I’ll eat my hat.  There a number of assumptions that continue to arise.

  1. The Internet model is broken – the free market forces of demand and supply have broken down under monopolist behavior and the model needs rescuing
  2. The Internet can be regulated by a single country or differently in each country. Surely this will lead to off-shore internet havens similar to “flags of convenience” in the shipping world.
  3. The Internet can be regulated with antiquated laws that pre-date the Internet.
Internet Regulation will be tough

Any meaningful Internet Regulation will massive cooperation

The industry also has to stand up and take some ownership of the problem.  Too long operators have shirked their responsibilities in terms of self-regulation and that was before OTT became a serious issue.  Now the ecosystem is significantly larger and so are the associated challenges to Internet regulation.  Regulators cannot simply back-date the Internet and impose regulation.  If we can’t travel into the future and find out how we eventually solved this problem, then the only way forward is to get all sides to sit down and figure it out.  I guess it is worrying that most days when looking at Internet regulation, developing time travel seems like the easiest option.

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