Is US Lurching Back to Monopoly Status?

Ranking Democrat on key House committee warns that new attitudes in DC go beyond concern to 'worry' status and need action now.

October 16, 2017

4 Min Read
Is US Lurching Back to Monopoly Status?

SAN FRANCISCO -- Incompas 2017 -- The ranking Democrat on the House communications subcommittee says she's worried about movement away from the competitive landscape of the 1996 Telecommunications Act that pushes the US toward a less-competitive environment and more monopolies that could stifle innovation and consumer choice.

"I'm worried because there are, in my view, major diversions from the Telecom Act, that is we have moved more toward … monopolistic tendencies," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., in a keynote Q&A here Sunday night at the annual event for the competitive telecom industry. "That is not good for the country, because if you don't have competition, you are not going to have innovation and it's not good for consumers either. Competition is as much a part of our economic system, our capitalism, as what we think of as a democratic society."

At the same time, Eshoo, who represents Silicon Valley, decried antitrust talk encircling some of the giant Internet companies including Google and Amazon -- although she did not mention any specific companies. Both Eshoo and Incompas CEO Chip Pickering -- who worked on the Telecom Act as a congressperson and staffer respectively during the mid-90s -- credited that legislation with helping spark the Internet boom and the many technology innovations that have followed.

Figure 1: Incompas CEO Chip Pickering questions Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. Incompas CEO Chip Pickering questions Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif.

All of that is being threatened, the veteran Congresswoman said, by communications subcommittee members who weren't around when the Telecom Act was passed and may not know what the legislation does.

"There are more voices in Congress now than in my 25 years in Congress -- it is not just a Greek chorus chanting on the side of the stage, it has moved center stage -- to question what has come out of the Telecom Act, what happened in Silicon Valley as a result," Eshoo commented. "I would say 'follow the money.' Who are the people that are doing this, from what institutes or foundations do they come and who is funding those organizations?"

She and Pickering -- who conducted the Q&A session -- also specifically called out Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai for his efforts to roll back net neutrality rules put in place during Tom Wheeler's turn at the FCC, and upheld by the courts. (See Net Neutrality, Here We Go Again.)

Eshoo specifically called for Congress to hold Pai's "feet to the fire" to make sure he is enforcing the Telecom Act of 1996 and its competitive requirements. And she referenced Pai's dismissal of the millions of comments that have come into the FCC opposing changes to net neutrality -- Pai's FCC has said that many alleged votes were falsely generated as part of distributed denial of service attacks -- as an indication he is not listening to what consumers really want.

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"I think the chairman and whoever agrees with him are going to have a rude comeuppance," Eshoo said.

She referenced a few measures she and others are bringing up to aid competition and improve security. One is a "dig once" measure that would require fiber optic lines to be installed as part of any federal highway construction, and another is a "touch once" approach to pole access and permitting processes for building local fiber networks. In addition, Eshoo backs a bill that would let the National Institute of Standards and Technology create voluntary standards for businesses and others to follow in setting up and maintaining network security.

On that front, Eshoo said, she is bucking fellow Dems who want the standards to be mandatory. It is more important to her to get something in place to prevent security breaches.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

(Homepage image by Rich Brooks on Flickr. CC BY 2.0 license; photo has been cropped and brightened.)

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