The battle for open broadband

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps had an op-ed yesterday in the San Jose Mercury News about the threat upcoming FCC decisions could pose to the open Internet:

At the behest of powerful interests, the
FCC is buying into a warped vision that open networks should be
replaced by closed networks and that the FCC should excuse broadband
providers from longstanding non-discrimination requirements.”

I’m also growing increasingly concerned
about the direction the FCC is taking. Just as broadband
deployment is taking off, and new applications as VOIP are beginning to
thrive on top of the broadband platform, the FCC is moving to tilt the
rules of the game away from innovators and toward incumbents.

I have great respect for FCC Chairman Powell’s intelligence and integrity, and as I’ve written,
I don’t see him as a mindless tool of big business. He is one of
the few people in Washington who sees the coming transformation of
telecom for what it is.

The problem is that the FCC doesn’t seem to fully appreciate what
“voice is just an application” implies. It means broadband
transport and what rides on top are separate markets. Competition
on top depends on open connectivity to what lies beneath, where two
companies in each market still control the critical last-mile
bottleneck. As much as those companies have complained, they have
made the investments and successfully built broadband access businesses
under the current pro-competitive FCC rules. Yet now they insist
they won’t invest without the ability to control what happens at the
application and content layers.

The incumbents (and, it seems, the FCC) have it exactly
backwards. Today, we don’t need a new set of incentives for
companies to deliver broadband transport; we need incentives to create
broadband applications. And competition is the best possible incentive.

Competition at the application layer will stimulate demand for more
bandwidth at the physical layer. That’s how we’ll catch up to
places like Japan and Korea that are rolling out 27 and 50 megabit
broadband connections. Giving up on competition in applications
in the hope that the bottleneck transport providers will deploy bundled
services makes no sense. It runs counter to all the lessons we
should have learned from the success of the narrowband Internet.