Why Aren’t We There Yet?

The following is an excerpt from an Oct. 16 speech by Federal Communications Commission member Ajit Pai

The following is an excerpt from an Oct. 16 speech by Federal Communications Commission member Ajit Pai at the Communications Liberty and Innovation Project in Washington, D.C.:

We are in the midst of revolutionary change in the technologies employed by the communications industry. We are fast undergoing an Internet transformation that will lead to an all-IP world.

Or we should be. American innovation is only the first step towards a modern communications infrastructure. The next step is deployment. By building out these networks, Americans from even the smallest of towns will be able to compete with their global peers in the 21stcentury economy. And making these investments will create American jobs.

So why aren’t we there yet?

One problem is the anachronistic laws we at the FCC are required to apply. Today, the FCC operates under a Communications Act that was last substantially revised in 1996 — an act that divides the communications marketplace into silos of technologies and services. Convergence and competition have rendered this approach hopelessly outdated, as voice, video, and data are quickly becoming just packets of information carried on the same networks.

Congress, of course, must decide how — and when — to revise the Communications Act. But absent direction from Capitol Hill, it is up to the Commission to administer and interpret the Act as it is.

When it comes to investment in IP infrastructure, the big question is how these services should be regulated, if at all. The text of the Communications Act doesn’t provide clear guidance, and thus far the FCC has not supplied a definitive answer. Firms facing major investment decisions want to know how they are going to be regulated. And if they don’t get an answer, they will be reluctant to make long-term financial commitments.

To get this capital off the sidelines, I believe that the FCC must clearly signal that it will not apply a 20th century model of economic regulation to IP networks. That model is obsolete. The marketplace has changed, and our regulations need to change too.