The Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission made a significant contribution to understanding the proper role of government in ensuring net neutrality. Speaking at the Progress & Freedom Foundation’s Aspen Summit this week, Deborah Platt Majoras cited the principle that, absent clear and specific evidence of market failure or consumer harm, policymakers should not enact blanket prohibitions of particular business models or conduct.
Second, she reminds us that broadband Internet access services are within the FTC’s jurisdiction and that the agency’s powers are proven. The FTC has successfully targeted Internet service providers who have allegedly enganged in deceptive practices and it has also required a cable system to provide open access to Internet service providers. This track record makes it pretty clear the FTC not only has the power but it also has the inclination to preserve openness and other values associated with the Internet. The allegation is that the D-word (deregulation) is coming to broadband services. Aside from the FTC, the FCC and the Antitrust Division also have jurisdiction over broadband services. Contrary to what one might think from listening to the appeals of net neutrality advocates, there are three levels of government oversight of broadband services.
Third, Majoras acknowledged that important questions have been raised and more information is needed. She announced the formation of an Internet Access Task Force to examine issues related to net neutrality and other matters. Net neutrality has been a debate about hypotheticals, which is part of the reason it has seemed so unproductive. This task force will be made up of economists and attorneys from throughout the FTC who are competition and consumer protection experts. Unlike the FCC, which only does communications, the FTC has wide-ranging experience and expertise arising from their involvement in every sector of the economy. This makes the FTC, perhaps, less beholden to some of the passions and prejudices which animate the special interests that have a dog in this fight. The FTC’s involvement will probably contribute greatly to the debate. With this kind of comprehensive look at all the facts underway, I’ll bet many-to-most in Congress will prefer to review the findings before they cast a vote.
See: “The Federal Trade Commission in the Online World: Promoting Competition and Protecting Consumers,” Remarks by Deborah Platt Majoras, Chairman, Federal Trade Commission, Progress & Freedom Foundation’s Aspen Summit, August 21, 2006
See: “PREPARED STATEMENT OF THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION before the COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY UNITED STATES SENATE on FTC JURISDICTION OVER BROADBAND INTERNET ACCESS SERVICES,” by William E. Kovacic, Commissioner, Washington, D.C., June 14, 2006