Policy Documents

Eight Principles of Telecommunications Policy

Washington Policy Center –
December 1, 2011

Today’s economy relies on information and communication moving rapidly and seamlessly across a wide variety of devices and mediums. The technology landscape continues to evolve quickly, and government regulators — both at the federal and state level — are looking at extending the existing regulatory environment to technologies that emerged decades after the initial regulatory mandates were enacted.

Regulating the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry is tricky for a variety of reasons. Foremost is the rapidity with which the industry changes; the iPhone went on sale only four years ago, and the power of cloud computing had yet to be fully realized (also, Facebook had a scant million users then, not the 750 million it has today).

The second issue with regulating in the ICT industry is that of balancing state and federal jurisdiction. Federalism demands more local control, or at least local oversight, yet technology and information management are often ubiquitous and the danger of fifty states laying out fifty different rules for cloud computing, VoIP connections, or privacy stipulations for mobile devices, would drastically cut down the innovation and speed with which these services are rolled out to consumers and businesses.

So, a balance must be struck between federal oversight and allowing state policymakers to weigh in when appropriate.

Often lost in the discussion is the need for smarter regulation, not just jurisdictional clarity. Are there regulations that need adjusting or updating, and what about regulations that simply are not needed anymore because society has moved on?

As a state-based think tank, WPC is focused first and foremost on affecting policy and policymakers in Washington. So focusing on federal regulations is often outside our purview. However, there remains a vital role for WPC and other state-based organizations in both keeping the federal government out of primarily state regulatory matters, and in encouraging state lawmakers to follow the federal example when appropriate (e.g., deregulatory efforts).

This briefing paper — along with the Communications Policy Guide — lays out a basic framework for how we can incorporate many of the basic free-market principles used in discussions on budget and tax, education, health care and the environment, and apply them to debates on technology and telecommunications policy.