Sunday, 3 November 2013

Why the FCC needs to get with the times, finally

  We are in the midst of a transition away from copper wire-based communications services to broadband Internet-based services -- a transition that then-FCC commissioner Michael Powell called the "Great Digital Broadband Migration" way back in the year 2000.
  To its credit, on October 23, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the implications of this migration to digital services. While the hearing's title -- "The Evolution of Wired Communications Networks" -- might put you in mind for a good nap, the hearing did focus needed attention on important public policy issues raised by the digital transition. And now, with the Senate just confirming Democrat Tom Wheeler as President Obama's choice for new Federal Communications Commission chairman, along with Republican Michael O'Reilly as a new commissioner, the House hearing couldn't have been timelier.
  Because the FCC, with a new chairman and a full complement of commissioners now on board, needs to act with dispatch to adapt its regulations to the new digital age marketplace realities.
  The digital migration, or migration to IP (Internet Protocol) services as they are often called, already is far along. According to a just-released report by Anna-Maria Kovacs, a visiting senior policy scholar at Georgetown University's Center for Business and Public Policy, as of 2012 only 5 percent of U.S. households still rely only on copper-based wireline POTS (plain old telephone service) lines for voice communications, while 38 percent of U.S. households are wireless only. Over 90 percent of households subscribe to wireless service, increasingly delivered over IP broadband platforms. All the while, the number of subscribers to IP-based voice services provided by cable companies and others has increased steadily as POTS subscriptions have declined.
  The IP migration presents policymakers with a fundamental question: will the century-old public utility-style regulatory framework that still largely governs communications service providers be replaced by a free market-oriented framework that benefits consumers, while, at the same time, stimulating investment and innovation? Or instead, will the legacy framework, with rate regulation, nondiscrimination mandates, and other regulatory strictures, be an obstacle to realizing the full benefits of the digital revolution?
  There is near universal agreement that IP services provide consumers with more features and functionalities in less costly, more efficient ways than do the old copper-based services. There is also widespread agreement that IP-based services have fostered increasing competition among broadband providers for the provision of voice, high-speed data, and video services, regardless of whether these providers offer these services over wireline, cable, wireless, satellite, fiber, or some other technology.
  So the relevant point for the FCC and other policymakers is not, as pro-regulatory advocates often imply, that all of the services offered by all of the competitors are not perfectly substitutable all of the time for all consumers. No, the relevant point is that, for a large, ever increasing number of consumers, a choice of various IP-based competitors exists, and these competitors, in turn, offer a choice of attractive service options.
  In other words, within the past decade or two, the communications marketplace has been transformed from a monopolistic environment into a competitive one characterized by increasing consumer choice.
  The transition to all-IP networks almost certainly will be completed at some point in time, but given the benefits of IP services, sooner is better than later. The key hangup is this: telephone companies like AT&T and Verizon are required by existing regulations to maintain in place their old copper networks even as they become economically unviable as the traffic they carry declines dramatically. Indeed, in 2010, when the FCC adopted a National Broadband Plan, it acknowledged that continuing to require telephone companies to maintain the copper-based networks "siphons investments from new networks and services" and "reduces the incentive for incumbents to deploy" new IP facilities.
  Despite that now 3-year-old acknowledgment, the FCC nevertheless has been slow to act. The Commission opened a proceeding to consider IP transition issues a year ago, but since then, the proceeding has stalled.
  The Commission needs to act more quickly because the longer the old copper facilities must continue to be operated, the greater the costs incurred through loss of foregone investment and innovation. The FCC likely possesses the authority under the Communications Act to eliminate the regulatory changes that impede completion of the digital migration, while, at the same time, safeguarding certain important public safety and universal service interests. For example, as the copper network is phased out, questions relating to the continued availability of reliable E911 services must be addressed.
  To the extent the FCC lacks any needed authority, or fails properly to exercise such authority in a timely fashion, then Congress should be ready to step in with near-term legislation. For example, Congressman Bob Latta's recently introduced bill, H.R. 2649, requires the FCC to presume that relief from existing regulations should be granted to the telephone companies, absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. This measure establishing a deregulatory presumption could be a useful tool in enabling the FCC to accelerate the IP transition, especially if applied to all entities subject to FCC regulation.
  Aside from any near-term legislation that may be needed, ultimately Congress should adopt a comprehensive Communications Act overhaul that substitutes a deregulatory, free market-oriented regime for the current public utility-style regulatory mandates. Under a new Digital Age Communications Act, the FCC's regulatory interventions in the new IP world should be required to be tied closely to evidentiary findings of market failure and consumer harm.
  In today's communications environment, the reality is that public utility-style regulation is no longer needed to protect consumers. Maintaining the old regime in place is unduly burdensome and too costly. Marketplace competition can protect consumers, while spurring both investment and innovation crucial to the health of our economy.
  With a newly reconstituted FCC ready to get to work, it's an opportune time for the agency to abandon its traditional pro-regulatory mindset.

Of course the terrible news for Microsoft is that its two older operating

  The percentage of Computer users running Windows 8.1 doubled within a month’s time, in line with the latest October data compiled by metrics firm Net Applications.
  Not surprisingly, that is still just a tiny fraction from the general Pc market place: 1.72 %, as measured by the firm. But combined with the quantity of users operating Windows eight, the combined market share of the Windows 8.x OS topped 9.25 %. At its existing pace, that share really should top ten % by the finish of your windows 7 professional pack year. (In September, Windows eight commanded 8.02 %, and Windows 8.1 0.87 %, for any combined share of 8.89 percent.)
  And sorry, Linux: Windows 8.1 now tops you, as well. Linux commanded 1.61 % of all PCs measured by Net Applications for the month of October. Mac OS X 10.eight was utilized by three.31 % of customers, Net Applications found.
  Of course, the terrible news for Microsoft is that its two older operating systems continue to dominate the Computer landscape. As outlined by Net Applications’s figures, greater than 46 percent of customers run Windows 7, and 31.24 % of customers continue to run Windows XP. Both numbers dropped much less than a percent from a month ago.
  XP’s marketshare is undoubtedly the most troubling, given that Microsoft will discontinue support for Windows XP by next April, leaving the 13-year-old operating program with out any way of being patched. The “XPocalypse” will leave PCs in a “zero day forever” mode, exposing them to any and all future vulnerabilities. Organizations starting to panic have selected Windows 7 as a stopgap, nevertheless.
  “Since Windows 8 launched, our guidance to business buyers has been to continue Windows 7 migrations that happen to be already in course of action,” a Microsoft representative told PCWorld in a statement final month. “We advocate our customers continue these deployments and look at Windows eight in targeted scenarios exactly where it makes probably the most sense, for example very mobile workers. As Windows 8 launched much less than a year ago, we're still seeing a lot of corporations completing those planned Windows 7 migrations now.
  “Every organization is unique and has different demands,” the Microsoft representative added. “The most important issue is that firms move off XP ahead of April eight, 2014, and onto a modern operating technique, and moving to Windows 7 will not only make sure that consumers remain on a supported version of Windows, but they will likely be on a path to Windows 8 and may make the most of innovations inside the Windows 7 platform, like enhanced safety and handle, increased user productivity, and streamlined Pc management.”
  Regrettably, there’s about 5 months before the XPocalypse draws nigh. Although Microsoft stands to advantage from the shift-31 % in the Computer user base stands to upgrade to some thing, no matter whether it be Windows 8 or Windows 7-there’s a actual threat to users who stay around the older OS. It is worth remembering-again-that if you’re one of those affected, think about producing an upgrade to a newer OS a priority.