One year ago I wrote that conservatives were the leading voices in technology policy. Conservative leadership on tech policy issues became even more apparent last week, when House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) announced plans to update the Communications Act for the Internet era (#CommActUpdate). Virtually everyone recognizes that the Act, which Rep. Walden noted was “written during the Great Depression and last updated when 56 kilobits per second via dial-up modem was state of the art,” is now hopelessly out of date. But it was conservative leadership that was willing to begin the legislative process necessary to update it.
Although the term “progressive” literally means “advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are,” some political progressives have focused their communications advocacy on maintaining the status quo. In response to the #CommActUpdate, Free Press said, “We’re not going to get a better act than we have now.” (Communications Daily, Dec. 5, 2013 (subscription required)) Free Press, which describes itself as a “movement to change media and technology policies,” also told Comm Daily, “The IP transition should be governed by the laws on the books today.”
The “do-nothing” approach advocated by Free Press is symptomatic of the regressive policies pursued by some communications advocates today. The laws Free Press seeks to preserve unreasonably discriminate among similar networks providing substantially the same services based solely on their historical identity. Among other things, this discriminatory statutory framework artificially shifts the costs of communications services provided to corporations to residential consumers, inhibits investment in the modern communications infrastructure to serve rural and low-income areas, and distorts competition.
When did self-described “progressives” start believing that Congress cannot improve such painfully outdated laws?
I have more faith in the legislative process than Free Press. I am confident that Congress can work in a bipartisan way to improve laws that are unfairly subsidizing business services at the expense of residential consumers, inhibiting investment in modern communications infrastructure, and distorting competition. Previous revisions to the Communications Act have not provoked partisan rancor, and this one shouldn’t either. Policymakers and advocates from both right and left of center understand the importance of ensuring that consumer-focused communications laws provide a level playing field for all market participants and foster the investment necessary to bring high-speed Internet services to every American.
Of course, improving the act will require that Congress conduct a thorough examination of the current communications market and retain only those policies that have proven successful – which is why the #CommActUpdate announcement is so important. Reviewing the Communications Act will take time, and in a global economy, we have no more time to waste.