Don’t expect congress to bust local broadband barriers

by Steve Blum • , ,

The 1996 telecommunications act is the basic law that governs broadband, telephone and other communication technologies in the U.S. It was written in the days of dial-up Internet access, and didn’t do a good job of anticipating the broadband industry of the twenty first century. So there’s an effort underway in congress – the house of representatives, particularly – to rewrite it.

Legacy barriers to access poles and conduit should be one of the major changes, if and when the 1996 act is rewritten, according to Staci Pies, Google’s senior policy counsel. The rules that are in place now prevent new service providers from entering the market. “Those don’t make sense”, she said.

There’s no plan right now to pre-empt local broadband construction restrictions at the federal level, though. It’s “not an issue” said David Redl, a staffer for the house energy and commerce committee, speaking at the same CES panel session last week as Pies. Noting that a lot of the U.S. economy is tied up in the existing model of telecoms regulation, Redl said the republican majority’s objective is to “do no harm”.

It’s a balancing act. Pointing out the current law was “written for a different era”, Chris Yoo, a professor of such things at the University of Pennsylvania, said “the essence of light touch regulation is that the benefit of the doubt goes to the innovator”. Which could mean that it’s incumbents who occasionally feel the heavy touch.

He told Pies that it’s actually Google that’s changed the way local governments deal with new, competitive broadband companies. “Instead of you begging the cities, the cities are begging you”.