Academic journal article Federal Communications Law Journal

Response to Harold Furchtgott-Roth

Academic journal article Federal Communications Law Journal

Response to Harold Furchtgott-Roth

Article excerpt



I have great respect and affection for Harold Furchtgott-Roth, and it seems from his review of Captive Audience that he has respect and affection for me. Luckily for the rest of you, my view of his personality--and his view of mine--is irrelevant. I wanted to begin, though, by acknowledging his personal graciousness towards me.

What is relevant is the striking number of issues in his review on which he and I completely agree. We agree that U.S. presidential administrations for a long time have not thought of the FCC as an important agency or its role in the U.S. economy as vital. We agree that communications policy in the U.S. is not necessarily being made based on the merits of particular situations. We agree that the federal government would probably be terrible at running a nationwide network itself.

Where we differ is in our prescriptions, given this agreed-on background. Mr. Furchtgott-Roth's conclusion from these premises is that the only answer is to give up. (1) And my conclusion is that we cannot give up.

My conclusion, unlike Mr. Furchtgott-Roth's, is based on the reality of consumers' experience in America when it comes to high-speed Internet access. Based on how people actually use these connections and how much they are required to pay, consumers are being gouged; the rich are paying too much for services that are both noncompetitive and second-class, and not enough Americans are being served adequately or at all.

Mr. Furchtgott-Roth would have to agree with me, because it is a central tenet of his worldview, that competition is central to any functioning free market. My contribution to this conversation is that we have neither competition nor adequate oversight when it comes to the actual lived experience of Americans as purchasers of high-speed Internet access. As a result, the country needs a wholesale revision of both the manner in which policy is made and the details of those policies so that retail-level competition can in fact be unleashed in the places where it is possible. We need new investments in modern, competitive, wholesale fiber networks in cities across the country so that new retail providers can begin selling services. (Fiber networks can last for decades if they are the right quality, and photonics are getting better all the time.) The entire nation needs an upgrade, and new entrants into the marketplace--both public and private--are needed to change the status quo that is serving all of us so badly.

If we fail, and if the FCC cannot act because the agency fears that the incumbents will march on Capitol Hill and gut the agency's budget if they do, that will have major implications for our democracy. Nonetheless, we should certainly still try.

We will need leadership from every level of government; mayors, governors, and the President will need to take the current crisis in American communications networks seriously. I wrote Captive Audience to encourage these leaders to step up to this challenge and to encourage every American to make his or her voice heard on this fundamental issue when electing representatives to office. (2) World-class, high-speed Internet access should be available to each one of us at a reasonable price, and where it is possible to have retail choices, we should have competition. This issue isn't just about equality or dignity; it's also about economic growth.


Mr. Furchtgott-Roth says that we have a competitive "broadband" marketplace. (3) He gets there by saying that 4 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up is the right definition of that marketplace. (4) But that market definition is entirely unrelated to reality. Let's step back and look at what people in America actually do using high-speed Internet access capacity. …

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