Hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on "Reconsidering Our Communications Laws: Ensuring Competition and Innovation"
HEARING STATEMENT [AS PREPARED]: JUDICIARY COMMITTEE HEARING: "Reconsidering Our Communications Laws: Ensuring Competition and Innovation"
Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling for this important hearing today. As the Senate considers rewriting the telecommunications laws, we are taking on many complicated and important issues. It is no exaggeration to say that the telecommunications revolution has re-shaped the way we live our day-to-day lives. From cell phones to blackberries, and from the Internet to satellite television and radio, all of us are communicating and obtaining information more rapidly, and in different ways. As these changes occur, our old regulatory framework is increasingly obsolete and, in some instances, it actually hinders the progress of this dynamic market sector. It is time to update our telecommunications laws for a new century, and it is essential that competition be the driving force for growth and innovation.
The changes in this market have been dramatic. In recent years, for example, the cable television companies have started to offer high-speed Internet and telephone services, while the telephone companies are beginning to roll out video services. It is clear that these businesses are beginning to think of themselves less as phone companies or cable companies, and more as providers of "content"- whether that content is internet traffic, phone calls, or television shows.
This convergence of services offers a unique opportunity to increase competition that we cannot pass up. All the players are attempting to compete in each other's markets, and we must help them achieve that goal. However, the path from here to there may not be such an easy one to travel because the issues we face are very complex.
For example, we have heard a lot lately about net neutrality. Many of the internet service providers, including many phone and cable companies, have expressed an interest in finding new ways to "manage their networks." The net neutrality debate revolves around how, and how much, the network providers can control the way their networks are used. It also involves who pays, and how much they pay, for using those networks. We must address this issue carefully. We may well be at an inflection point, a point at which the future of the internet is determined. Action or inaction may dictate the degree of investment and the pace of competition and innovation generated by the Internet for years to come. This committee must make every effort to ensure that the legal framework for this industry provides the best possible platform for competition and innovation.
Another important issue that must be addressed is the process for video franchising. As the phone companies enter into video services, they tell us that the current franchise requirements delay how quickly they can enter specific markets and begin to provide another choice for consumers. At the same time, the cable companies - who were required to get franchises in each of the towns and cities they serve - argue that all the players in this industry should be treated the same, regardless of the technology they use. At some point soon we must resolve these conflicting views of the market, and we must do it in a way that encourages free and fair competition.
Naturally, issues like these are ones that this Committee, as well as the Antitrust Subcommittee, has examined extensively over the last decade. As chair of the Antitrust Subcommittee, I have worked with ranking member Senator Kohl to maintain competition in telecommunications industries, by holding numerous hearings on the cable, satellite, and telecommunications industries, as well as scrutinizing a range of mergers in these industries. All of this investigation and examination has reaffirmed to me that free, fair and vigorous competition is the best way to assure that we get innovation and good pricing for businesses and consumers.
Therefore, it is essential that this Committee continue to play a leading role in any telecommunications reform, and that we emphasize competition - to guarantee that our laws and regulations can effectively meet the challenges of this emerging marketplace.