Outside View: Resolutions for communications policymakers

By BARRY D. UMANSKY and ROBERT E. YADON, UPI Outside View Commentator

MUNCIE, Ind., Jan. 16 (UPI) -- The beginning of any new year is a prime opportunity to chart a path for success in the coming months. Because we at the Digital Policy Institute think a lot about technology policy, we believe now is the time for government policymakers to begin 2014 with a resolve to make wise and rational decisions affecting communications companies and the public they serve.

Below are some recommendations we think can serve as sound guideposts for the newly constituted FCC, the U.S. Congress, the Obama administration and even state regulators, on issues integrally related to our overall economy, our capacity to compete effectively against our global trading partners and our ability to connect all Americans to the communications solutions of their choosing.



1. Spectrum Auctions

We resolve to design and conduct "incentive auctions" of current broadcast spectrum that will provide substantial new spectrum for wireless services and that the auction proceeds will be maximized to ensure adequate funding levels for public safety services and to help balance the federal deficit.


We also resolve to ensure that broadcasters participating in the forward auctions will be compensated fairly and that the terrestrial television broadcast service, through equitable "spectrum repacking," will continue to be able to provide robust, point-to-multipoint, entertainment, information and emergency service to any Americans desiring their content directly through over-the-air broadcast services or via multichannel video providers.

2. IP Transition

We resolve to expedite the ongoing conversion of our country's telecommunications systems to the faster infrastructure that comes with having all-IP networks.

This resolution is based on our recognition that IP-enabled services aren't only equivalent to, but are functionality far more capable than services offered via legacy technologies.

We further resolve to authorize, and carefully review the results of, "wire center" tests of all-IP networks.

Additionally, we resolve that, whether by statute or regulation, the conversion to all-IP networks will leave no American behind or otherwise result in any American receiving less connectivity than they currently enjoy, including those with disabilities and those living in hard to reach areas.

We resolve that such a transformation of our country's communications infrastructure will not be at the expense of customer privacy or consumer protection.

3. Retransmission Consent

We resolve to recognize that effective and appropriate statutory laws and regulations sometimes result in intense battles among communications providers, and that periodic interruption of multichannel video systems' ability to deliver particular television stations' programming to subscribers doesn't necessarily indicate a failure of a regulatory structure.


In assessing the merits of parties' arguments, we acknowledge that cable television and other multichannel providers have enjoyed competitive advantages over other content providers due to the structure of copyright laws and recognize the value of stations' and broadcast networks' programming which these multichannel video providers carry.

We resolve that this is a matter where the Federal Communications Commission, rather than the Congress, should explore the concepts of mandatory arbitration and more open negotiations to help avoid future channel blackouts.

4. Broadband Adoption

We resolve to set policies that will encourage private investment in broadband technologies and better enable our citizens to realize the benefits of enhanced connectivity through broadband-based services and devices.

We also resolve that creating jobs and stimulating the national and local economies should be guiding factors in the reassessment of and elimination of government rules and policies that artificially limit the levels of broadband growth in both urban and rural areas.

We further resolve that policies once aimed at ensuring universal access to telephone service be recast to ensure similar access to the communications solutions Americans are seeking.

5. Regulatory Modernization

Noting that some aspects of federal and state regulation of telecommunications companies have imposed unnecessary, counterproductive and sometimes conflicting measures, we resolve to adopt "revise or replace" strategies that eliminate federal regulations that have become moot, that eliminate the patchwork of state regulations that impede investment while harming consumer welfare and that are otherwise not yielding public-benefitting results or otherwise are merely increasing the cost of doing business for both the private sector and the government without any increase in consumer welfare.


6. Antitrust and Media Ownership Reform

Subject to court rulings, the FCC resolves to reform its media ownership rules so that the agency eliminates antiquated restraints on broadcasters and other media companies that constrain their ability to serve their audiences with the programming and services they demand.

Similarly, federal government agencies and Congress resolve to eliminate unnecessary redundancies and conflicting assessments of media concentration and marketplace competition.

7. Ensuring Maximum Benefits from Communications Services

We resolve to help enhance communications services to maximize benefits.

Whether it's improving the service potential of AM broadcast radio or looking to a future of universal broadband and IP-based services, government policymakers resolve to foster technology-based and competition-enhancing means to improve the levels and ranges of service.

8. Network Neutrality

Subject to the rulings of federal courts, we resolve that Americans should enjoy full and lawful access to Internet services, including content and applications, and that statutory laws and regulations that protect this access shall provide internet providers with the necessary flexibility to manage, maintain, and operate their networks in an efficient manner and allow them to offer varying types and levels of broadband service in order to meet the diverse needs of consumers, service providers and content creators alike.


9. Global Vision in Benefiting America

Recognizing that U.S. industries and U.S. citizens compete in a global economy, we resolve to take steps, on state and federal levels, and in spectrum policy, copyright law and trade negotiations within the international community, to ensure a healthy economy and a healthy workforce.

We resolve to: provide our citizens with technologies, legal rights, connectivity and equipment to ensure fair global competition; provide robust telecommunications systems to give K-12 and college students, as well as older Americans training and retraining for jobs, enhanced educational opportunities; encourage expanded markets for e-commerce sales of our goods and services; and make available advanced and cost-effective electronic (onsite and remote) medical diagnosis and telemetry.

10. Reforms to the Communications Act

Now 80 years after the Communications Act of 1934, and 18 years following the statutory reforms embodied in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, we resolve to take a fresh look at revising federal statutes and to acknowledge that changing technologies, changing consumer preferences and demands and a vastly altered media marketplace have created a need to update our communications laws.

We further resolve that such statutory change shall encourage greater and more fair competition among media companies, while assuring that the public's interests, particularly of those who are disabled or in less advantaged communities, are protected and advanced.



(Barry D. Umansky and Robert E. Yadon are professors at Ball State University and members of the Digital Policy Institute. DPI is an independent, interdisciplinary research and policy development organization at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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