Understanding broadband regulation

My friend Tim Wu is a legal/regulatory scholar who writes amazing, lucid papers that frame debates about hard regulatory questions in ways that totally blow my mind (and clarify my thinking). His Copyright's Communications Policy changed the way I think about copyright forever.

Now Tim's breaking fresh ground with a paper on broadband regulation that once again has opened my eyes to a whole new way of understanding the debate:

In the communications world some technologies attract what you
might call a high chatter to deployment ratio. That means the volume of
talk about the technology exceeds, by an absurd ratio, the actual number
of deployments. "Videophones" are a great historical example, as is
"Video-on-Demand" and, of course, the glacial sixth version of the
Internet protocol (IPv6). In the 1990s, the technology named Voice over
IP (VoIP) was a starring member of this suspect class. The technology
promises carriage of voice signals using Internet technology, an attractive
idea, and in the 1990s and the early 2000s it was discussed endlessly
despite minimal deployment.

The discussion usually centered on the question: when would
broadband carriers deploy VoIP? And the answer was always, "not quite
yet." There were reasons. Many within the industry argued that VoIP
was not a viable technology without substantial network improvements.
Engineers said that the Internet Protocol was too inconsistent to
guarantee voice service of a quality that any customer would buy.
Industry regulatory strategists, meanwhile, were concerned that offering
voice service would attract federal regulation like honey attracts bees. As
for the Bell companies, the main Digital Subscriber Line (DSL)
providers, there was always the problem of providing a service that might
cannibalize the industry's most profitable service.


(via A Copyfighter's Musings)