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An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal captures the state of the telecom debate in Congress. It celebrates the progress on cable franchise reform, but alerts readers to the threat posed by net neutrality laws:
But [this] bill also threatens to introduce a whole new wave of regulatory requirements by codifying "Net neutrality" rules in law.
Last year the FCC published a non-binding set of Net neutrality "principles" laying out what consumers are "entitled" to -- basically, choices about the content they see, the devices they use and the networks they connect to. However, giving the FCC the power to enforce these rules against Web sites and network owners alike would open a Pandora's box of intrusive regulation and litigation.
The far better solution would be to start from scratch, a la Mr. DeMint's Senate bill. It says, in effect, that telecom companies should be regulated on the basis of fair competition standards used everywhere else in the economy. Rather than trying to legislate competitive outcomes, as the 1996 Telecommunications Act did, Congress could allow open-field running save for anyone who violates antitrust rules.
For years, regulators and "consumer advocates" have argued that telecom is "too important" to be left to market forces. Something like the opposite is closer to the truth. In a digital age, telecom is too important for policy to hinge on arbitrary distinctions between "information" and "telecommunications," or to be held hostage to thousands of rent-seeking municipal agencies. It's time for a rethink, and the more fundamental, the better.