Susan P. Crawford has been drawing the ire of the broadband sector lately with the recent release of her book, “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the Gilded Age.” Out of fairness i will not criticize the book for the simple reason that I have not read it and most likely will not read it. I “grew up”, if you will. as a regulator during the late 1980s through the mid 1990s and quite frankly from what I have read from Professor Crawford’s other articles, she really couldn’t school me on anything telecommunications wise.
That being said, I will address very briefly the premise that broadband should be regulated like a monopoly. The pile on that Professor Crawford was subjected to in a Broadband for America blog post provided a sufficient distinction between competitive broadband networks and the traditional telecommunications, electric, and water system monopolies regulators are familiar with and they are all valid. My distinction is a lot more basic than those offered in the Broadband for America piece.
Simply put, we need electricity and water in order to maintain the most basic quality of life. We don’t need broadband to do that.
Now, in this highly technological world filled with Kindles, iPads, iPods, and laptops, what I just said may amount to heresy, but given the very diversity of utility that broadband has, there are ample substitutes that deliver what broadband technology provides, albeit at a slower speed. I can still get news from broadcast television. As long as the major networks are willing to pay the National Football League for the rights, I can still see the Super Bowl via over-the-air broadcast. I can read a print magazine and get my latest gossip about Beyonce. I can still buy a newspaper. I can still take classes in a real classroom with a live teacher.
Broadband is a want. A good want, but a want all the same. If I fail to provide my son with a hot bath and a comfortable living environment due to lack of running water, however, then we see child services knocking on my door. The state will have nary a care if he can’t watch Disney HD via a smartphone.
Again, the equation is simple. Utility equals necessity. Broadband equals want.