In reaffirming his support for an open Internet, President Obama recently echoed the beliefs of virtually every American. Cutting through the often divisive rhetoric, he focused instead on shared values, telling an audience of start-up founders in California that openness ‘unleashed the power of the Internet, and we don’t want to lose that or clog up the pipes.’
From our innovation economy to the free exchange of ideas, the United States is a shining example to the world of the promise of an open Internet. It is widely embraced by policymakers, innovators and consumers alike, particularly with respect to mobile broadband. We remain the global leader in mobile innovation and have embraced openness across the ecosystem. So much so, that not a single formal complaint against wireless providers has been made to the Federal Communications Commission since it first adopted open Internet rules in 2010.
As the FCC considers new regulations, the Internet remains as open as ever. The mobile ecosystem is thriving, with 82% of Americans having four or more providers competing for their broadband business. Yet future wireless innovation is very much at risk if policymakers over-reach with these rules. One area fraught with peril is the insistence by some that if you truly support an open Internet, then you must blindly adhere to the irrefutably false conclusion that wired and wireless networks and markets are the same.
Such a litmus test requires a willful suspension of disbelief. At some level, we all understand that wireless networks are different. We understand that we can get the dreaded loading symbol at a crowded event when everyone is posting to Instagram. In fact, in just the three years since 2010, mobile data traffic increased more than seven times.
Inherent capacity constraints are the whole reason spectrum policy is front and center in conversations about our mobile future. Just one strand of broadband fiber has 2,000 times the capacity of all mobile spectrum combined. There are equal differences in the wireless marketplace, where intense competition is the norm.
Subjecting wireless broadband networks to rules that dictate how wired broadband networks are designed and operated would be a mistake. Instead, wireless network managers need maximum flexibility to keep networks expanding and clear. And wireless companies need the ability to differentiate their products and services without having to ask permission. This is our best guarantee that we maintain an open and innovative Internet—one in which mobile broadband retains its virtually limitless capacity to transform our lives.
Today’s mobile-specific approach is creating more opportunity, from contact lenses that read blood sugar levels, to cars that connect and save lives, and whatever comes next. The more we allow these mobile platforms to innovate and flourish, the better the outcomes for our mobile ecosystem, the economy it expands and the consumers it serves. We need to facilitate experimentation and differentiation, not stifle it.
The idea that we apply the exact same regulations to two entirely different network architectures is a recipe for chaos. Smartphones need smart policy. And at their core, those policies must acknowledge that honoring the universal desire to keep the Internet open does not require an unworkable platform parity paradigm that defies the basic laws of physics or ignores basic competitive facts.
Instead, the FCC should proclaim a path forward that reflects the day-to-day operating realities and capacity limitations of mobile networks and avoids relegating one of the most important inputs to American innovation, and economic leadership globally —U.S. wireless networks—to the fate of public utilities.
With $400 billion and counting invested in our mobile networks, the United States is the envy of the world for good reason. The question squarely before us in this debate: How do we build on this leadership?
From day one, the extraordinary regulatory success story surrounding the Internet can be summed up in four words: ‘first do no harm.’ The FCC should heed those words today.
In commenting on last month’s vote for Scottish independence, President Obama turned to an old maxim that retains a modern ring of truth: ‘If it ain’t broke; don’t fix it.’ When it comes to maintaining the open Internet and all the momentum surrounding mobile broadband, we couldn’t agree more.
Former FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker is the President and CEO of CTIA-The Wireless Association. Jonathan Spalter is the Chair of Mobile Future.