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Regulations May Be Necessary to Ensure Competitive Broadband, Say Experts

in Broadband's Impact/Net Neutrality by

WASHINGTON, July 13, 2009 - A group of academic and industry representatives agreed Monday that some government regulation will be necessary to ensure a robust and competitive broadband market and continued innovation. The group spoke during a panel discussion sponsored by the Technology Policy Institute.

Public Knowledge Legal Director Harold Feld said government policymakers have made a shift in how they think about broadband from merely a service to an entire ec0logy. While past policies focused on the number of lines laid and producer incentives, Feld said that going forward, new policies will focus on how all of these factors act together and affect our economy as whole.

But whether the role of government will be to "nudge the participant" into action or "actually building something" itself is still up for debate, he said. “Ten years ago, we thought convergence would create competition at every level,” but “whether competition is enough to meet our policy goals” is still unclear, he said.

Any debate must knowledge that the market is functioning well and is competitive, Verizon Communications Associate General Counsel David Hill said. Hill cited studies showing more than 90 percent of people in the U.S. have access to broadband -- with many having access to three or more choices of service providers.

And in the wireless market, Hill pointed out some small players are moving faster than the big ones.

Hill suggested that stimulus programs first target unserved areas, but strongly disagreed with adopting EU-style unbundling regulations.  The benefit of private sector investment in the broadband industry “must be taken into account,” he said.

But Michael Katz, a faculty member at the Leonard Stern School of Business at New York University, emphasized a distinction between pro-competition and “pro-competitor” policies.

A lot of carriers, said Katz, want the government to “tilt things in their favor,” at the expense of other competitors.

William Lehr, research associate in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology provided additional justification for government involvement in the broadband industry. Government is a "major consumer" of broadband services - and should have some say in how the industry operates, he said.

But Lehr stopped short of calling for total open access regulation, while not ruling out all regulations of any kind.

Any kind of open access regime should be a "last resort," he said.

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