Could Comcast Derail Obama’s Broadband Agenda?

By  |  Monday, April 5, 2010 at 1:18 pm

President Obama has made broadband a key part of his telecommunications agenda. To get there, he has tasked the Federal Communications Commission with the responsibility to make changes to Internet regulations and promote his “National Broadband Plan,” an ambitious effort to reform the industry and expand broadband access across the country.

There’s an elephant in the room however, and it’s name is Comcast. The telecommunications company is challenging the FCC’s authority on Internet regulation in court, and if successful it could seriously inhibit the agency’s efforts to move its plans forward. Comcast’s beef goes back to 2008, when the FCC censured the company for its bandwidth-throttling efforts against BitTorrent and others.

If the court rules in Comcast’s favor, the FCC may lose the necessary powers it requires in order to shift spectrum from television companies to wireless providers in order to advance broadband access. The agency also has other options, including reclassifying Internet service under more tightly regulated telephone service laws, but even that isn’t fraught with trouble.

Telecommunications companies would no doubt be unhappy that they wouldd be required to share lines with their competitors, and we all know that probably means lawsuits. It would also mean Internet providers would have to accept quite a bit more regulation then they’ve been used to. More lawsuits. All in all, the Comcast case really seems to hold the key to Obama’s broadband plans.

Personally, I find it sad that it has come to this to decide whether this country really gets serious with high-speed Internet access. I know among the more conservative readers on here, government regulation is not very popular. But its a simple fact in this capitalist society that the almighty dollar is what companies are most interested in. Regulation does put a crimp on profits, and I believe nobody can really argue that.

We’re getting to the point where the Internet is no longer a luxury, but rather a necessity. At that point, regulation of the industry is necessary in order to ensure that it is accessible by all, rather than only where it is the most highly profitable. Of course, its not going to be as profitable for a company to offer Internet access in rural North Dakota as downtown Los Angeles.

But should access be determined by geographical location, or potential profit margins? Therein lies the argument. And now it appears a court case in Washington, DC could possibly set the course of broadband access for years to come.

 
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7 Comments For This Post

  1. Bouke Timbermont Says:

    We’re getting to the point where the Internet is no longer a luxury, but rather a necessity

    So true. Internet is becoming just as important as electricity and water, everyone should have access to a broadband connection.

  2. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    > Regulation does put a crimp on profits, and I believe nobody
    > can really argue that.

    I can really argue that. That’s like saying that speed limits make you get to your destination slower. It’s true on its face, but if you remove the speed limits, at some point you crash or someone crashes into you. Then you’re off the road completely for a while, not traveling anywhere, which eats up all the gains you made while you were speeding around. Overall, you are now slower than when there were speed limits. And your car is wrecked.

    If the US broadband goes on like this much longer, with such low speeds and penetration that not only consumers suffer, but companies in every industry suffer compared to their international competitors, Google (or someone like them) will come in with a next generation system and erase Comcast from the face of the earth. So the lack of regulation that lets Comcast sit on its little monopolies is not even good for Comcast. It may make them more profitable in the short-term, but long-term they are going to be less profitable because they will be dead within 10 years.

    The problem the Soviet Union had was the government regulated almost *everything* in the economy and it was a disaster. In the US, we have the opposite problem now (and in the late 19th century) with the government regulating almost nothing. Also a disaster. What works best is balance: strong regulation creating fair and healthy markets where you need strong innovation to compete, and markets thrive and everybody gets rich, like post- World War II in the US.

    What we have to realize is *we* own the market. It’s the people’s market. When a segment of it is not working, we have to fix that. We rely on the broadband market to bring us *great* broadband. If it’s not working, then what good is it? Comcast has no right to sit there like a toad and exploit an unhealthy market. The government has to do something to fix the market or else if we’re going to have only one choice, you might as well nationalize it and make broadband lines like public highways.

    So yeah, if it’s broken, it needs to be fixed. Weird that it would be controversial to say that.

  3. tom b Says:

    Gov’t regulation is the only thing that keeps us from behaving like a bunch of cave men. Look at places like China– no environmental standards– lead from electronics waster and smog from coal plants everywhere. Suppose we had no air safety standards. Carriers would be filling the skies with”just a few more jets” to squeeze out the most profit possible. Life’s about balance; eberything– including regulation– in moderation.

    Hopefully, Comcast’s suit will get tossed out.

  4. Carolynp Says:

    If you look at the areas of technology that have blossomed over the last twenty years, you will be seeing the areas with the least regulation. To insinuate that broadband is a basic need that should be added to Maslow’s hierarchy is ludicrous. Where does this thesis that government is a group of well meaning fairies who always do good things come from? It certainly isn’t historically based. If DC takes the right to regulate the internet, the internet becomes another political toy for congress to turn into re-election bucks. And perhaps the internet can become as successful as the post office or social security. Woot! Just can’t wait.

  5. Flanker Says:

    As much as I hate the Government trying to take control over what they think is in the best interest of the people. But I would really love to the have some kind of high speed internet at my location. I live in northern Wisconsin and I can’t get any company to even think about running a line to my house. They have the equipment at the end of the road but refuse to run the line. So I would like to see Comcast lose this one.

  6. tom b Says:

    Comcast wins, but the FCC may have the last laugh:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/06/net-neutrality-us-court-r_n_526972.html

  7. Backlin Says:

    Despite my libertarian views, something I would like to see is a half-half compromise. There should be a regulation stating there are at least three companies competing in any given area; with at least two means to getting the internet (like cable and 4G). In order to do this, there could be low-interest loans or incentives from the government. Of course, the government would have to repeal healthcare reform to get the money, or tax some other industry.

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