“One Internet” – The Rashomon Effect

by Mike Wendy on October 4, 2011

When it comes to defining for regulators what the relevant market is for broadband access services, activist group, Free Press, is a master of the fast and loose.  In a new call to action urging its flock to stop Congress from rolling back the FCC’s (dubious) Net Neutrality regulations, it notes:

…When the FCC passed its rules last December, it created the fiction that the wireline Internet (the Internet you access on your laptop or desktop) is different from the wireless Internet (the Internet you access on your mobile device)…[which is] an absurd distinction.

“One Internet.”  OK.  In other words, how you get onto the web doesn’t matter, so the services getting you there should be regulated the same.  The implication here is that all broadband access is essentially fungible.

I agree with that (consequently, I don’t think any of it should be regulated because there’s so much choice…but I digress).

At the FCC in its (anti) AT&T / T-Mobile merger comments, Free Press argues something different, however.  Completely.  In its complaint against AT&T, the “one Internet” argument goes out the window.  It seems that wireless broadband access is different.   In this regard, Free Press believes “The relevant product market is the national post-paid smartphone mobile service market.”  Inclusiveness be damned.

Translation: Free Press wants to stop the AT&T merger.  To effect this job, the special interest group must shear abundance from the competitive picture so that the merger’s alleged harms appear bigger and of greater import in comparison to the inclusive broadband access market.  Thus, they implicitly urge regulators to disregard the “one Internet,” which in its totality is filled with many access options, and focus instead on only a tiny subset of Internet access – four “national” wireless carriers named Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.  This smaller number makes any supposed harm more glaring and obvious, thus “demanding” regulatory intervention.

So, on side one of its mouth, Free Press argues that the Internet should be regulated with a single set of rules regardless if the medium is wired or wireless.  But on the other side, wireless is different because it helps them and regulators smash Internet providers like AT&T into submission.

It’s all about “one Internet.”  I’ll say.  There’s tons of choice that disciplines the marketplace without the need for onerous regulations or extortive merger processes.

But to Free Press and their supporters, “one Internet” means a medium owned and operated by one man – Uncle Sam – after having frustrated private access providers into leaving the business by capping growth, limiting essential inputs, and littering the once free market with needless hydra-like rules and regulations.

That’s one Internet we could do without.

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