Yesterday, Chairman Wheeler gave an important speech on the status and the future of broadband competition, emphasizing the increasingly limited choices emerging for American consumers for wired broadband connections at the higher speeds that consumers increasingly demand. He looked at the facts and the future, recognizing that “meaningful competition for high-speed wired broadband is lacking and that Americans need more competitive choices for faster and better Internet connections.”
The status of competition today is, of course, the sum total of past actions, including past policy perspectives on the nature of competition, which the Chairman also recognized.
As it happens, two large anniversaries in the past 12 months marked critical epochs in the history of America’s approach to communications industries and competition.
December 2013 was the 100th anniversary of the so-called Kingsbury Commitment, the antitrust settlement struck between American Telephone & Telegraph and the Department of Justice. The Commitment set a national policy favoring regulated monopoly over competition but failed to consider the steps that government could have taken to boost competition, such as the establishment of interconnection obligations between competing local telephone companies.
This was the Era of Regulation: when monopoly was considered an act of nature and government stood in the shoes of consumers. From 1913 until the early 1980s, the prevailing view favored just one telecommunications network – “Ma Bell” – with the government using regulation to do what consumers were not permitted to do – discipline their supplier and decide what’s best.
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