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Jun 20

Should an 80 Year-Old Law Apply to the Internet?

80-anniversary-8592973Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the Communications Act of 1934. The Act was established to regulate telephone, telegraph and radio so that all U.S. citizens could receive basic communication services. It contains seven sections, Title I through Title VII.

Title II, the section on common carrier regulation, has been making headlines recently, with some fiercely pushing to apply this regulatory regime to the Internet. But should an eight-decade old dense list of rules really apply to the Internet – the most technologically advanced communication network the world has ever known?

To give you an idea of national trends in 1934, just consider:

  • a loaf of bread cost 7 cents
  • a gallon of gas cost 10 cents
  • average yearly wages were just under $2,000
  • rent was about $20 a month
  • the primary national media was radio and newspapers
  • there were less than 5,000 TV sets in operation

Title II was meant to regulate simple communications technologies – telegraphs, radios and telephones – that have no resemblance to the complicated network of networks that defines today’s multifaceted, global Internet. The needs of these technologies were wildly different from those needed to implement, grow, and maintain fiber optics networks with thousands of interconnection points that carry billions of bits every day, ranging from tiny emails to massive rich media and video streaming packets.

The Internet is a futuristic and ever expanding network that is entirely ill-suited to the permission-based regulatory model of Title II. We’re in the midst of a technological and communication revolution that could not even be dreamt of in a world 80 years ago.  So why are some looking 80 years in the past as the model to keep it growing?

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