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Broadband services

Verizon: One Regulator to Rule Them All

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

KBode 10/11/2013 | 9:57:55 AM
Re: Deregulation I do think there's always room to modernize regulation, and create uniformity across technology sectors. Verizon and AT&T historically, however, haven't been particularly interest in doing this honestly with broad input on said modernization.

But to be clear, I think we tend to skirt over and around the reality that these companies' ideal goal is to have absolutely nobody watching the henhouse for foxes. 
Carol Wilson 10/11/2013 | 9:49:03 AM
Re: Deregulation I thought it was interesting the day before when Rep. Blackburn mentioned protecting consumer privacy by giving individuals control of their virtual selves, essentially dialing back the ability of Facebook, Google and others to assemble information on people's online habits. 

At that moment, I had to smile at the thought of Congress, which can't seem to get anything done right now, taking on Google, et. al. 

But i think this is part of a broader initiative, which Verizon seems to embrace, to think of the infrastructure providers as no different from the search engines, the social media networks or the apps providers in how they are regulated. 

Certainly a different way of thinking, and it will be interesting to see if it goes anywhere. 
KBode 10/11/2013 | 9:34:27 AM
Deregulation This constant effort by incumbent telcos to hamstring, derail, weaken and destroy regulatory efficiency and authority at every step on both the Federal and state level for decades -- then complain that the regulators aren't doing a very good job -- never ceases to amuse me. It's kind of like those who endlessly profess government can't work who run for office, then proceed to break all the china to ensure their beliefs are substantiated.
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