War for the Web
01 03.15

Title 1, Title 2, and the future of the Internet

Here at War for the Web, we’ve been very excited to follow the progress of the activist groups pursuing a “title 2” strategy for the Internet. We’ve felt from the very beginning of this project that Title 2 is an important regulatory change for the Internet and we’re glad to see the FCC begin this process. This is a major victory for the forces of net neutrality and those interested in keeping the Internet competitive and available. We celebrate our friends at Fight for the Future, Democracy Now, Demand Progress, the EFF, and the variety of other institutions that fought and ultimately won this battle; but the war for the web isn’t over, not by a long shot. Title 2 isn’t a panacea, but rather a framework into which we can build more effective rules to govern the Internet’s infrastructure.

Those opposed to this change are using terms like “regulation,” “big government,” and “obamacare for the Internet.” They’ve also stated that this is a “solution in search of a problem.” These statements are categorically false, but the title 2 change we have accomplished will not, by itself, fix the problem.

The fundamental issue with the Internet in the United States is a lack of competition in the marketplace for service. A few major telecommunications companies own almost all the infrastructure nationwide, and hold monopolies over key markets. They have no incentive to upgrade their infrastructure, and charge higher prices every year. Prices in much of the world are substantially lower, and speeds are much faster. In addition, with most technology, prices fall over time but Internet and cable service is the opposite.

Despite what congressional republicans and big telecommunications companies argue, the Internet has in fact always been heavily regulated. In the early days the Internet operated largely over phone lines, and so was subject to Title 2 regulations. In 2003 the FCC changes the regulatory structure for the Internet, and now they have changed it back, but it’s incorrect to say that the Internet was a deregulated space and now we are applying regulation.

In fact, prior to this recent move, The Internet was a space regulated largely in favor of a few large companies. These companies, Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner, have exclusive franchises with cities and were able to prevent other competitors from entering the infrastructure market. For example, in New York City, Verizon owns the conduit system beneath the streets, called Empire City Subway. Several other companies have been granted franchises from the city to build fiber service, but Verizon stonewalls their access to the conduit system by refusing to provide maps, and hides behind a contract that ECS signed with the city of New York in 1891. That isn’t a typo, that’s over 100 years ago. Google faced similar issues in Kansas City, where they could not get access to utility poles and had to find other ways to run cable for fiber infrastructure.

These big players have helped craft the regulation to protect their businesses, and title two will help alleviate that, but we don’t feel the current regulation goes far enough. A better solution would be enacting common carriage laws and price regulation for basic internet infrastructure. These would allow new ISPs to enter the market quickly and compete to bring prices down and improve infrastructure. When the Internet was invented and invaded everyone’s homes in the late 1990’s and early 2000s, these were the regulations that existed, and they exist elsewhere in the world successfully.

Major telecoms have used the threat of diminished investment as a reason to prevent regulation, but there are plenty of companies waiting on the sidelines for the rules to change so they can jump in to the marketplace. We at War for the Web believe that the most important regulations we can change are those that will reduce barriers to entry for Internet service provision and allow more players into the market, all over the country. Price regulation and common carriage laws are among those rules, and we urge the FCC to take those steps.

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