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The Internet is growing at an astounding rate as people access it faster than any other technology in history. An impressive array of statistics from both government agencies and economists attest to these facts. Yet, as with any new technology, there are varying rates of adoption – not every American has access to the Internet today. Competition and innovation will lower costs and increase availability of the Internet for all consumers. As a result, those who do not have access to the latest technologies will likely have access to them in the very near future.
As policymakers search for ways to bridge the so-called "digital divide," the answer they seek may be closer than they think. In the case of the Internet, the digital divide was not created by a lack of available technology, or by a physical inability to provide these services, or even by a failure on the part of corporations to enter new markets. It was created by the very telecommunications regulations that were designed to foster competition and benefit consumers. These regulations need to be changed.
Policymakers who want to improve consumer access to fast, affordable Internet service should take these three steps:
Get all the competitors in the ballgame. Congress and the Federal Communications Commission should modernize current regulations. Leftover regulations from a day when not everyone had access to telephone service are, today, keeping some competitors from offering consumers high-speed Internet access. The market for Internet service is brand new. Telecommunications regulations that were conceived and designed before the existence of the Internet should not apply to this dynamic new technology. Maintaining the current restrictions on inter-LATA transmissions will only slow innovation and raise costs for consumers.
Encourage companies to suit-up for competition. Congress and the FCC must refrain from imposing heavy regulations on communications companies that invest in high-speed Internet services and create alternative communications networks. This will ensure that the marketplace incentives for companies to compete for consumers remain intact. Understandably, communications companies will not risk spending the money necessary to develop a broadband infrastructure if they fear that the government is going to use regulation to alter their ability to use that infrastructure. The threat of new regulations has sidelined or slowed many communications companies.
Play Ball! Congress and the FCC must refrain from over regulating new Internet products and services. The burden of government regulations has limited consumers’ access to new goods and services in existing technology markets. For the Internet market to provide services as quickly and efficiently as possible it is important to keep the Internet free of unnecessary regulations. This will allow consumers to choose the winners and losers in the Internet market instead of the government.
The fastest way to provide consumers in every category fast affordable Internet access is to ensure that a healthy, vital marketplace exists. Less regulation will make the Internet marketplace more competitive and innovative and speed its benefits along to all consumers.