Internet regulation has become one of the hottest political topics of late, taking it’s place alongside such old chestnuts as foreign policy and social agendas. So far, net neutrality has been the most widely discussed and publicized internet regulation, inciting bloggers and pundits across the web to opine. Early this year, the FCC ruled in favor of net neutrality. Many people supported the decision and were pleased with this outcome. On the surface, it seems to have certain benefits, but it also sets a precedent for related issues in the future.
According to a recent Washington Post article, Obama has begun to make broadband issues a key part of his remaining agenda. Part of his proposed plan is to implement a ‘dig once’ policy for laying internet cabling. The plan seeks to lower the cost of pipe-laying for internet cable by digging up roads only once to lay down a single tube large enough to accommodate any future cabling. This would avoid having to continuously dig up roads for every company that wants to lay new cable and reach new customers.
Just like net neutrality, the plan appears on the surface to be beneficial to consumers, but can the government actually create competition effectively? If they can, we should also ask ourselves whether they should.
The ‘dig once’ plan seems like a more efficient way of laying down cable. Certainly having less roadwork seems worth it alone because we all know how efficient the government is at taking care of its roads. But it’s hard to say whether this would actually create more competition among service providers. On the one hand, after the pipe is set in place, it will make adding new cables less expensive. This would lower the high entry cost that exists for companies that are smaller or younger than the big guys. On the other hand, this would also lower costs for the larger companies, so it wouldn’t appear to do anything to remove the size advantages they already possess. Even so, cutting costs for large ISPs should still result in better prices for consumers.
It’s hard to say that this would really make the industry a much more competitive place. It does however seem like the consumer could potentially reap some benefits in terms of cost. But the questions still remains as to whether it’s actually something the government should be doing.
As previously mentioned in regard to Net Neutrality, every decision the government makes concerning this still very young industry, sets a precedent that will affect future decisions. It’s important to think of government rulings in those terms, rather than just looking at how they might deliver immediate benefits. It’s also important to note that it is in a company’s best interest to do things in a cost-effective and efficient manner. If this ‘dig once’ policy is truly the best way to do things, we should hope that companies begin to implement it on their own, without intervention; that is how a free market is meant to work.
In the final analysis, it’s good to see that the government still understands the benefit of competition for consumers in an economic market, but I don’t think that the market really needs the government to create competition artificially. At the moment, the internet is still probably the most free environment anywhere. It’s hard to support any decisions that set precedents which could lead to internet access being more controlled and heavily regulated, no matter how good they might look in the short term.