Heartland Institute Comment on National Broadband Plan

March 16, 2010
James G. Lakely

James G. Lakely, co-director of the Chicago-based Heartland Institute’s Center on the Digital Economy and managing editor of InfoTech & Telecom News, offered the following comments on the National Broadband Plan released by the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday, March 16, 2010.

You may quote from his statement below or contact him directly at jlakely@heartland.org, 626-421-9414.

“The National Broadband Plan is an impressive document—but only if one is impressed with the idea of a federal agency grossly inflating its competence and proposing a vast expansion of its power.

“It’s important to remember that Congress last year asked the FCC to do something relatively simple and straightforward after passing the ‘stimulus’ bill: Propose ways the government might increase access to broadband and make it more affordable.

“The logical response to that mandate should have been equally direct and modest: Stay out of the way of the vibrant digital market and reduce any government barriers to free-market competition. Instead, the commission has come up with a nearly 400-page manifesto that would make government bureaucrats the gatekeepers of nearly every aspect of the digital economy and Americans’ experience online.

“Sure, the plan is not all bad. It proposes, for instance, requiring broadband providers to give customers more transparent and easy-to-understand information about the high-speed Internet service they purchase. And the FCC’s plan to ‘collect, analyze, benchmark and publish’ detailed information on the state of the broadband market in the United States would also be helpful to consumers.

“But the bulk of the plan puts FCC bureaucrats into the role of ‘master and commander’ of the Internet, micromanaging everything from privacy policies on the Web to the ‘set-top boxes’ on your TV. The agency even proposes to spend money out of a new government fund to get phone companies to stop charging by the minute.

“Some of the proposals are just silly and grossly wasteful. For instance, do American taxpayers really need to fund a new ‘National Digital Literacy Corps’ to ‘organize and train youth and adults to teach digital literacy skills’? Can’t the small minority of Americans who have never used a computer and accessed the Internet just invite friends and family over for dinner and a primer? And don’t public libraries already serve this purpose?

“The National Broadband Plan states on page 29, ‘today’s broadband ecosystem is vibrant and healthy in many ways.’ It will be less so if much of what the FCC proposes comes about. History shows that central planning schemes don’t work, and they are especially damaging when misapplied to a system as dynamic and complex as the digital economy.”