Friday, June 9, 2006 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Coping with COPE

The House has overwhelmingly passed the Communication Opportunity Promotion Enhancement Act of 2006 (COPE). Of course, the last time Congress overwhelmingly passed communications legislation, we got this. So there is reason for to take pause.
On the whole, the COPE Act isn't exactly awful, but it is a high price to pay for the laudable goal of television franchise reform. In the best of all worlds, franchising would be ditched entirely as the outmoded regulatory institution it is. But it isn't the best of all worlds, so there are concessions to the reliance interests that localities have on the tax revenue from franchising, and to silly little shibboleths like PEG channels.

The higher cost comes in the enshrinement and activation of the FCC's Internet connectivity principles into enforceable form. This is a "soft" net neutrality mandate, but a mandate it is. And it opens up broadband innovation and investment to regulatory overview that could cause mischief in the wrong hands. On the good side, it at least relies on adjudicatory procedures for enforcement and allows common law-like evolution of permissible and impermissible practices. But it fails to make competition policy the touchstone, and still fixates on a hypothetical future concern. It will not be one of those immediate "boy did that lead to unintended deleterious consequences" provisions, but check back in a few years to see if it was a real regulatory Pandora's box.
The VoIP 911 mandates in the bill are similarly noissome. Being "against" E911 is akin to kind of like being excited about the World Cup -- a loser's proposition, in the U.S. at least. Despite this, a strong mandate on a new technology seems premature. This is especially so when current mandates work against E911 innovation. Instead of encouraging feature-rich, IP-based E911 solutions, quick trigger mandates divert resources into making VoIP systems backward-compatible with the 30+ year old, archaic circuit switched E911 system.
On the whole, not a terrible bit of work, but the unnecessary marriage of net neutrality to franchise reform could be costly in the long run. A potentially high price for a bill that typifies "small ball" legislating (which is not by any means a bad thing).

posted by Ray Gifford @ 2:09 AM | Cable , Capitol Hill , Communications , Net Neutrality , State Policy , The FCC