Joining the Susan Crawford pile on

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.

About Alton Drew

Alton Drew brings a straight forward and insightful brand of political market intelligence. Alton Drew graduated from the Florida State University with a Bachelor of Science in economics and political science (1984); a Master of Public Administration (1993); and a Juris Doctor (1999). You can also follow Alton Drew on Twitter @altondrew.
This entry was posted in broadband, consumer protection, consumer welfare, Federal Communications Commission, free markets, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Joining the Susan Crawford pile on

  1. Ken Ciszewski says:

    I agree with Alton’s logic on this one. Also, it’s probably better that we not make broadband a monopoly ala the old AT&T/Bell Operating Companies as they were pre-divestiture (1985), mostly for the reason that broadband provides a lot of news and information content (unlike wired telephony), and at that level, having one entity control it might have bad effects due to attempts at “mind control by propaganda”. We may already have some this going on (look at Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, for instance) in other media, so it’s probably not a good idea to encourage it or institutionalize it by regulation. That would be a very interesting unintended consequence.

  2. Andrew says:

    I understand where you’re coming from, but I feel with how our work environment is evolving, pervasive broadband access is a must for America to remain competitive on a global scale. Additionally, with the system as it stands, American consumers are losing out, and there’s no way to get around that. Despite cable companies’ significant profit margins and major wins in regards to deregulation, we remain behind many other developed countries when it comes to broadband penetration, speeds, and cost per megabit. This is unconscionable for a country that drove the creation of the Internet and it’s driven by complacency endemic of a near monopoly. The big providers don’t have to improve the service because no one is challenging them, and they don’t have to lower prices because they know people will keep paying. The Internet isn’t just Disney films – it’s access to a wealth of information that can’t be readily accessed elsewhere. It’s a communication mechanism with people unlike yourself. Essentially, its necessary in today’s world, and especially for kids to better understand our world, and not just the wealthy ones. Maybe utility type regulation is too severe, but how else can we kick these companies in the proverbial butt to actually provide us top of the line service for these premium prices?

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