The California Public Utilities Commission made the Monday deadline for commenting on the Trump administration’s move to scrap common carrier rules for broadband service. The filing more or less followed along with a rough draft approved by commissioners last week, and argues that reversing course would strengthen incumbent monopolies…
[Broadband service] providers must receive nondiscriminatory access to utility support structures, including poles and conduits, at just and reasonable rates, terms and conditions. Last year, the CPUC conducted a comprehensive review of the California telecommunications market, and analyzed the state of competition in various state sub-markets. The CPUC found that competitive bottlenecks and barriers to entry in the telecommunications network limit new network entrants and may raise prices for some telecommunications services above efficiently competitive levels. One particular bottleneck is access to utility poles, where the CPUC found that its safety mandate intersects, and must be reconciled with, its goal of a competitive market.
The CPUC comments also extoll other benefits of broadband’s common carrier status, including…
- Keeping network neutrality rules in effect.
- Allowing California, and other states, to bake strong Internet privacy protections into law, when congress and federal regulators punt.
- Maintaining lifeline service subsidies for low income Californians.
- Preserving universal service programs, that primarily fund infrastructure and service in rural areas.
Which is all good as far as it goes. But the CPUC comments miss the fundamental reason broadband should be treated as a common carrier service: because it is.
The lack of competitive alternatives, as the CPUC correctly emphasises, is key. That’s only one of the elements in the mix, though.
The monopoly control wielded by what are effectively content companies with a telecoms sideline combined with the technical ability to analyse and shape user traffic in real time is unprecedented. Yet it would be instantly recognisable to the medieval jurists who conceived the principles of common carrier doctrine. Second order benefits are a fine thing, but broadband’s common carrier status is a first order necessity.