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CONTACT: Patrick Ross
March 30, 2005
(202) 289-8928
Voluntary Openness Can Benefit Cable
Dixon Hopes to Avoid Openness Mandates

WASHINGTON D.C. - The Brand X case before the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday was but one part of a larger debate about the "openness" of the Internet, Progress & Freedom Foundation Senior Fellow Kyle Dixon writes today in CNET Dixon doesn't see a need for openness mandates, but warns the cable industry that there may be some merit to proactively defining and embracing openness to avoid having policymakers impose or define it for them.

"No one involved seriously disputes the value of Internet 'openness,'" writes Dixon, although he argues it is often defined too simply. "The issue is whether the government must mandate openness on cable modem and other networks, or whether openness will occur without such mandates." Openness continues to persist on the Internet despite dire predictions to the contrary, he writes, and a desire to satisfy consumers in a competitive market will continue to ensure that. Not only does Dixon reject openness mandates, but he isn't convinced that such mandates ensure consumers get maximum benefit from devices, content and applications riding on broadband networks. He also believes such mandates would inhibit broadband investment and thus thwart the FCC's efforts to increase U.S. broadband usage.

But we are in a period of uncertainty, Dixon writes, with Brand X pending in the courts and Congress considering a Telecom Act rewrite. "During this period of uncertainty, even pro-deregulation policy-makers will be tempted (in part, by companies who supply content, applications and devices) to impose a few openness regulations on network owners. Network owners will then face an uphill rhetorical battle. They will need to explain to skeptics what harm there is in requiring them to safeguard the openness they support and have always provided by dint of basic financial incentives."

"To reduce the risk that Congress or the FCC will pick winners and losers in this manner, network owners would do well to offer their own voluntary commitments to preserve consumers' freedom to choose the devices, content and applications," says Dixon. "In early 2004, former FCC Chairman Powell challenged them to do as much."

Dixon has discussed the ramifications of the FCC v. Brand X case here and on the Progress & Freedom Foundation blog.

The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.



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