NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- TIA 2013: The Future of the Network -- How anxious is Verizon to get its hands on more wireless spectrum while avoiding future regulation of its IP network?
Anxious enough to call -- reluctantly -- for congressional action to revamp telecom regulation once more, according to Randy Milch, executive vice president of public policy and general counsel at Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ). In his keynote address here, Milch called for the creation of a single agency to protect consumers in the Internet ecosystem, covering search engines and applications providers as well as ISPs. At the same time, he sounded the familiar call for faster recovery and reselling of large swaths of spectrum currently controlled by federal agencies or other entities that aren't using it.
The plea for faster auctioning of spectrum was nothing new, and Milch's call for regulatory overhaul echoed comments a day earlier by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who criticized the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for its "regulatory addiction." Milch went farther than Blackburn in calling for a new approach to regulation that is focused on protecting consumers and treats the different players within the Internet ecosystem similarly. (See: NSA Humor Tops Congressional Hubris.)
Milch preceded his call for dramatic change by crediting the rapid growth of the Internet and wireless networks to a relatively unregulated environment. That environment existed largely because the Telecom Act of 1996 focused on current voice and data networks, not those of the future.
Left relatively unfettered, he said, the US Internet and wireless industries became innovation engines that are the envy of the world. "Others with vastly more intrusive regulatory regimes are discussing how to catch up with us. The do-no-harm approach has been indispensable to our success."
Where the FCC does continue to intrude, Milch sees problems ahead. The regulatory regime is not nimble enough to keep up with technology changes. The current rules apply "rotary phone era" regulations to IP-based voice, layering requirements on some players that restrict what they can do and leaving other unfettered.
Verizon would like a new regulatory framework that lets industry organizations -- Milch cited the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) -- set compliance rules or standards, which a single federal agency could enforce. That agency's primary job would be consumer protection.
"When there's a problem, the consumer doesn't care if it's the service provider, the search engine, or the applications developer. They just want the problem solved," he said. "We should have one set of consistent rules for all players in the ecosystem with a single agency to enforce."
He acknowledged that such dramatic change in regulation would require statutory changes. "It's time, I'm sad to say, for Congress to get involved."
However, there was a 62-year gap between the last two substantial congressional efforts to reform telecom regulation. Given the current gridlock over even larger issues in Washington, Milch's speech may be just one of many calls for change in the months and years to come.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading