What open source should tell the FCC

What open source should tell the FCC

Summary: What has happened in this last decade is that we allowed private monopolists to become the government. Government should go back to performing its legitimate role, setting the rules of the road, assuring that competition is a continuous process, and adjudicating disputes.


The Federal Communications Commission is seeking comment on a natonal broadband plan, with detailed rules expected next year. (To the right, incoming FCC chair Julius Genachowski.)

What should those who follow open source and the Internet values behind it be telling the agency?

My own wish list is pretty simple.

  1. Guarantee competition. We lack broadband because we lack competition. You can't force monopolies to do what's right. As it was with the banks so with the telcos. Break 'em up.
  2. Open the Spectrum. We need more open spectrum, in which rules are defined by equipment and enforced upon equipment makers, rather than closed spectrum where monopolies act as the government and innovators must ask permission.
  3. Free the bits. Moore's Law as applied to radios or fiber implies we should have abundant broadband right now. We don't because monopolists are holding those bits for ransom. They claim they are doing the will of content companies, yet those companies too are being shaken down.

What has happened in this last decade is that we allowed private monopolists to become the government. Government should go back to performing its legitimate role, setting the rules of the road, assuring that competition is a continuous process, and adjudicating disputes.

The danger in this call is that every special interest will come in with special pleading, and that the general interest will be drowned out. That interest is for more -- more capacity, more competition, more freedom for individuals and innovators.

Crime can occur on many levels and we need cops on every beat. It can happen on the streets, in the suites, wherever corruption is allowed to frustrate law enforcement.

Government should be limited, but it must exist, or anarchy rules. That is the essential lesson of our time. We need light rules, rooted in technology, enforced as easily and lightly as possible.

That's how we'll get the most broadband.

Topics: Broadband, Enterprise Software, Government, Government US, Networking, Open Source, Software, Telcos

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  • you are right

    The very wealthy in the US will not give up their power easily. Open and
    free internet is the enemy of the rich and powerful.

    The free flow if ideas is what they are trying to stop, here and in places
    like China.
    • I don't think the two are necessarily linked

      I wouldn't compare our wealthy to the Chinese
      communists that readily.

      We have also learned this decade that ideas can
      travel on very little bandwidth. Tweet, tweet.
  • I couldn't agree more with you.

    When I will be moving to Orlando, I wanted to go with 1.5 Mbps DSL Direct for $38/month. While I could go with Brighthouse for $42.95 a month, I'd like to try to save about $5 a month. But I wish AT&T could lower the price of DSL in order to stay competitive with Verizon. I'd like to go with 3 Mbps for $29.99 a month, but it's not available. I don't understand how AT&T prices why AT&T widens the gap between DSL Lite and DSL Ultra carries an $18 difference in price for DSL Direct while DSL with phone line is $13.

    I don't mean to whine and complain, but with bandwidth cap at 20GB for DSL Lite and 40GB for DSL Ultra, I'm not going to get that much for my money and my only option is BrightHouse with 7 Mbps for $42.95 a month, but I hope I can get it without cable.

    If Verizon is available in Orlando, I can just switch and be happy with the service.

    I regulary download Linux distros and download movies that I rent. I do have Blockbuster-By-Mail with Blu-Ray access for $8.99 (compared to Netflix for $11.99 a month with Blu-Ray access) so, I plan to rent less downloaded movies and enjoy better surround sound with better picture quality.
    Grayson Peddie
    • Wholesaling

      One important feature of the 1996 Telecomm act,
      since discarded, was that companies like Verizon
      had to wholesale their capacity.

      They should do that again. It's not technically
      impossible. It's not even that difficult. It's
      more difficult for cable ,with its DOCSIS
      system, which has more centralization at the
      head-end. But still not impossible, even there.
  • Bogus

    We don't NEED "national broadband". And it isn't ubiquitous not because of lack of competition, but because people are not willing to pay for it! Why should I subscribe for $30/month, when I can go use free WiFi at a coffee shop or my local library. This notion that we need government providence of every potential service is DANGEROUS. "Universal service" is a load of bull -- people CHOOSE where to live, knowing that living in remote places means less access to all kinds of services. In the case of broadband internet, there are PLENTY of choices -- I agree that "net neutrality" is vital, but service provision in general already has many options. GET GOVERNMENT OUT.
    • We didn't need the Apollo program or the Interstates either

      These arguments are as old as the Republic.

      I sometimes resent Keith Olbermann referring to
      Republicans as "Whigs" because the Whigs were
      distinguished by their support of
      infrastructure, such as railroads, in order to
      support the needs of business.

      Techboy sounds like he's to the right of the
      Whigs. Which I guess would make him a Democrat,
      of the Jacksonian stripe. See you at the next
      Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, then?
      • Hahaha...

        Good 'ole Blankie! Apples 'n oranges, as always. Was there already a substitute for the interstate highways? No, not railroads -- there was a paradigm shift to autos that rendered those incompatible with the new ability for *individual* transportation at will over longer distances.

        With broadband, I'm simply positing that we already have enough options, each commercially viable on its own, and do not need government stepping in to try and provide ubiquitous service, at what will inevitably be higher cost. Some will always pay for the convenience of having broadband at home; but the fact that many do not want that, does not mean that there aren't enough offerings. We are choosing not to, for various reasons -- price, viable alternatives (libraries, coffee shops, ability to use a friend or family member's service occasionally, etc.).
        • government is out of control

          In most cases of infrastructure the more competition, the higher the cost...which is why "natural monopolies" exist and are allowed.

          The problem is, particularly now, the government can't get out of its own way. With the legislation being passed and signed you can't expect once they build infrastructure to allow business to run it. They will want to regulate the pipeline, tax it, censor it if they feel the need...

          They've already spent trillions of dollars in a matter of months on earmarks. Where is the money coming from to finance any infrastructure?
          • Back to the topic

            When it comes to broadband, what I've proposed
            is very, very conservative. It's market
            oriented. I oppose subsidies for broadband. I
            prefer incentives to maximize the number of bits
            available in the market.
        • I'm not arguing for government to build broadband

          I am arguing for government to use the antitrust
          powers first pushed into our law by John
          Sherman, William Tecumseh Sherman's brother (R-
          OH), to assure competition in the market for

          And for it to use the regulatory powers first
          granted to control interference under Calvin
          Coolidge in market-oriented ways rather than in
          ways that please only monopolists.
        • Hey, the states could have built their own freeways...

          ...and some (particularly California) did so before the Interstate Highway System was planned, or private entrepreneurs could have built toll roads with their own money. Either way, the feds didn't have to build either the Interstate system, or the US Highway System that came before it (I'm given to understand that a fair number of people argued that the first was unconstitutional). It may or may not have been a good idea for the federal government to act (I think there were both positive and negative effects), but there were alternatives.

          Arguably, federal involvement in the building of railroads (particularly the special privileges granted to the companies that operated them), together with the US Supreme Court ruling that corporations were persons under the meaning of the 14th Amendment helped make the interventionist bent of the US government in the 20th century inevitable (someone had to be the police). Maybe it would have taken longer to build the transcontinental railroads if it had been left up to private individuals and companies operating under normal rules, but I think it unlikely, in that case, that railroads would have wielded the sort of economic or political power that they did during the last part of the 19th century. Almost certainly, railroads would have crossed the continent sooner or later.

          Just goes to show that even "pro-business" policies have unintended consequences.

          Come to think of it, Robert Heinlein's "Rocket Ship Gallieo" predicted space exploration would be led by private initiatives, instead of governmental ones. I think it would definitely have taken longer that way (that's a lot of capital to have to borrow from your friendly neighborhood bank), but at least some people were thinking about it. And maybe if it hadn't been for the Cold War (remembering that the US space program came about in response to Soviet efforts), that's how it would have happened.

          John L. Ries
          • That's true

            But waiting for ideology to make you a pony does
            not get you a pony. When everyone shares in the
            benefits and no one actor can do it themselves
            than everyone needs to get together and do

            That's how open source works, as well as
            government action.
          • Agreed

            And I was mostly responding to the severely anti-government TechBoy (I was surprised that he apparently considers the Interstate Highway System a necessity). Government should do things because it's in the public interest to do them (within constitutional restraints), understanding that nothing is free, not even inaction. But understand that we always have alternatives and just like in algebra, there is often more than one right answer.
            John L. Ries
          • Wisdom there...

            I generally support a mixed economy, a mixed
            political system, and oppose -isms of every
            sort. Communism, fascism...as conservatives made
            their views an -ism over the last decade they
            have left me increasingly cold.

            And calling what liberals believe liberal-ism
            doesn't make it so. Otherwise getting liberal
            consensus wouldn't be like herding cats.

            With conservatives, too often, it's like herding
            cattle. That's troubling.
          • Conservatism as ideology

            Agreed with the comments about ideology (with the caveat that rhetorically, ideology is often the derogatory synonym for "principles"), but I think the roots of "conservatism as ideology" go back a lot longer than a decade (try the 1950s) and is an outgrowth of the Cold War. Specifically, I think conservative thinkers were so alarmed by Communist aggression and the perceived mainstreaming of Marxist ideas that they sought to recast conservatism as an ideological alternative to Marxism. I think that's really what Ayn Rand's objectivism is all about, and it can also be seen in the writings of William F. Buckley and other "Conservative" (with a capital C) thinkers ever since. It seems to me that in the 60's and '70s these ideological "Conservatives" were a relatively small minority (most US conservatives were non-ideological traditionalists), and their influence was set back at least a decade by the defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964, but they've been the dominant influence within the Republican Party since the early 1990s, largely due to the influence of "New Right" politicians and academics too numerous to mention, and a certain demagogic talk show host with many imitators whose name I won't mention.

            I think it will pass and "small-c" conservatism will again prevail on the American right, but it will take considerable time for people to realize that the ideological approach is the problem, rather than the solution.

            John L. Ries
  • Broadband for the masses

    The thing is broadband does not need to be expensive, some one complained that they cant afford at a little less than twice the price one would pay for dial up.

    What we should be concerned about is the FCC moving to give providers more control over what goes over their lines. Similar to what was done with mobile phone service and incompatibility of handsets between providers and the detrimentally closed system they have created for everyone.

    This is also much like what has been done with the digitization of cable and the cablecard system they have imposed, the cable company should not be able to restrict my viewing ability to devices that they get to choose, I should be able to record and view what I want on what ever device that suits my fancy.

    Just because someone lives in a "remote" area does not or should not mean that they either chose to live there nor that they should not get access. Whats lacking is the will to use technology we have to provide connections over long distances.

    For one I hope that the FCC moves to make broadband access available to everyone both content providers and users independent of whom is using it or what is being sent over it.
    • Market Incentives

      We need market incentives from the government
      which incline us toward plenty instead of

      In terms of rural service, Michael Powell talked
      about concepts like "frequency temperature" --
      by which he advocated allowing higher power
      limits on WiFi in rural areas to create more
      competition with the telcos from WISPs.

      I like what many Republicans have done in the
      area of anti-trust and frequency regulation. I
      don't like the Clinton-era idea of selling
      frequencies for a government windfall.

      If mine is now the liberal position, fine. But
      it's as liberal as William McKinley.
  • nt...

  • this is one of those situations where it uis hard to fall..

    on the 'right' side. on the one hand, everyone in this day and age needs access to internet service. on the other hand, they also need access to a telephone. i don't see the government 'making sure that everyone has access to a telephone'. we need it, we pay for it. some of us only need a cheap land line. others require something more mobile, but not nationwide. yet others need nationwide or even international coverage. likewise, not everyone NEEDS that fastest internet access. they may want it, but not really need it. some just need access to e-mail and maybe news or ability to research a project for school. for them a $10 dial-up connection will suffice. others like myself do a lot of large file downloading, i'm going to go with a provider that doesn't cap my bandwidth and offers a decent speed.

    i believe that the industry will make sure that folks in remote locations have access to broadband, as the industry can afford to support it. a few years ago wireless technology progressed to the point that people in remote locations could get broadband access for a fee. the more time passes the cheaper that technology becomes. for the currant administration, i think that issue has already been addressed.
    • Universal Service...

      Universal service became a huge sinkhole for the
      monopolists. Republicans all voted for the "Gore
      Tax" meant to subsidize universal access to
      broadband in the 1990s.

      But we didn't get the service.

      I'd rather have market incentives.