Balkanizing internet regulation is out of step with the uniformity needs of financial technology

The eye-catcher ….

In two weeks, state utility regulators will convene in San Antonio, Texas for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners annual meeting to discuss how they can leverage a recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals-DC Circuit that the Federal Communications Commission cannot preempt state regulation of concerns over consumer access to and privacy on the internet via broadband.

Some states such as California have moved ahead with their own net neutrality laws, hoping to enforce consumer protections by prohibiting internet access providers from lowering traffic speed from certain websites or preventing internet service providers from favoring their own content by blocking a consumer’s access to content that the consumer prefers.

The state-by-state approach problem

The problem with a state-by-state approach for a financial technology firm is the uncertainty that data and capital face when they traverse state borders. Will a content delivery firm tasked with storing and transmitting financial data on behalf of a financial technology firm have to enter into different interconnection agreements per state because of the differing consumer privacy laws encountered in each state?  Will differing requirements on paid prioritization result in financial data traffic slowing down depending on which state border it crosses?

There is an irony that on a global basis, the United States is a staunch proponent of freer cross-border data flows, but would run the risk of subjecting those same data flows to a hodge-podge of regulations that create digital toll roads for financial data traffic.

The changing consumer taste in banking

What federal and state policy makers should be focusing on is ensuring the amount of bandwidth necessary for digital transmission of financial data and capital is available.  Our use of digital banking services will not be shrinking anytime soon.  MediaCom Business cited data in a blog post that 92% of millennials make their choices as to where to bank based on the digital services a bank offers.  Legacy banks hoping to compete with digital upstarts are accepting this type of demand an, as found by consulting firm Accenture, are exploring how best to integrate and deploy technology necessary for meeting this demand.

Recommendation: Seamless versus Balkanization

The supply of digital banking and payment systems services combined with increasing demand for these services means more bandwidth is needed in order to optimize the consumer experience.  State and federal policy makers can facilitate this need for increased bandwidth by focusing policy on ensuring the delivery of this infrastructure.  Coming up with 50 different rules on net neutrality is more distraction than help.

What should be spawned in next month’s NARUC meeting is a recommendation for national legislation on consumer privacy.  Consumer privacy concerns should no longer be leveraged to create 50-plus fiefdoms for net neutrality.  Transmission of information, data, and knowledge should be a seamless experience for consumer and firms that use financial technology to transmit value and capital.

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Rural areas have a demand for technical skills

The Internet Innovation Association, a broadband advocacy group, citing research by National Public Radio and Harvard University, found that when it comes to training that will get rural residents further ahead economically, rural residents place a higher priority on computer and technical skills.  Twenty-five percent of respondents cited computer and technical skills followed closely behind by 24% saying that a first or more advanced degree would best help a rural resident keep or find a better job in her community.

Coming in at 17% were writing and research skills, presentation and public speaking, and skills for starting a business.

This data seems in line with the observation that the United States is moving further into an information economy.  These skills are increasingly necessary for workers seeking to make a living in an economy where extraction, production, and storage of knowledge is a process taking place more and more online.  To be a competing port of call in the information trade, rural residents will have to garner these skills on varying levels.

What should state and local law and policy makers be doing?  They should first continue to encourage deployment of infrastructure necessary for carrying additional “load”, to use an electric grid term.  With more rural residents learning computer skills, the United States will need the digital capacity that can accommodate more digital workers.  A continuously minimum regulatory infrastructure is key.  State and local governments should bear in mind that broadband infrastructure requires significant amounts of investment.

USTelecom reports that $1.6 billion has been invested in broadband since 1996, the year that the Communications Act was amended to reflect a public policy that encourages advanced communications.  This investment has paid off not only in terms of  more advanced communications infrastructure, but with the addition of edge providers such as Netflix, Facebook, and Amazon.

Law and policy makers who are sincerely mindful of the need for an economy that can accommodate demand for digital workers should always remember that investment and a light touch regulatory scheme works.