Should an 80 Year-Old Law Apply to the Internet?


Today is the 80th anniversary of the Communications Act of 1934. The Act was established to regulate telephone, telegraph and radio so that all U.S. citizens could receive basic communication services. It contains seven sections, Title I through Title VII.

Title II, the section on common carrier regulation, has been making headlines recently, with some fiercely pushing to apply this regulatory regime to the Internet. But should an eight-decade old dense list of rules really apply to the Internet – the most technologically advanced communication network the world has ever known?

To give you an idea of national trends in 1934, just consider:

  • a loaf of bread cost 7 cents
  • a gallon of gas cost 10 cents
  • average yearly wages were just under $2,000
  • rent was about $20 a month
  • the primary national media was radio and newspapers
  • there were less than 5,000 TV sets in operation

Title II was meant to regulate simple communications technologies – telegraphs, radios and telephones – that have no resemblance to the complicated network of networks that defines today’s multifaceted, global Internet. The needs of these technologies were wildly different from those needed to implement, grow, and maintain fiber optics networks with thousands of interconnection points that carry billions of bits every day, ranging from tiny emails to massive rich media and video streaming packets.

The Internet is a futuristic and ever expanding network that is entirely ill-suited to the permission-based regulatory model of Title II. We’re in the midst of a technological and communication revolution that could not even be dreamt of in a world 80 years ago.  So why are some looking 80 years in the past as the model to keep it growing?

  • bricko

    No, actually a national utility should be formed and then all ownership of any delivery cable, fiber etc should be turned over the the utility. It would only be allowed to manage, maintain and update all fiber, cable. No content would be offered by this utility. Then these would be all open to anyone to provide any content. Users could buy any content from anyone and have it delivered by the one cable. We are not going to have 9 different cables into the house. One large cable that offers any content. Delivery devices will NOT be controlled by ISP or cableco or telco. Fiber is open to anyone. We used to have 20 ISP in our city, now only 2. Open all fibers up to wholesale prices.

    • Justin Vélez-Hagan

      So you favor economic monopolization controlled by the government, Comrade? I suppose you’re right….after all, it worked for N. Korea, the USSR, and Cuba, among others, who are the bastions of tech advancement, innovation, and economic development in the world.

      • karelles

        Actually, it’s also employed by a good percentage of the free world, with higher speeds, lower rates and still abiding by net neutrality, Herr Hagan (good for the goose). All the advancement, innovation and economic development – much of it created by small enterprises operated at first on a shoestring – has happened under the freedom of net neutrality. Allowing cable companies and ISPs to decide who gets the fast lane and who the slow, based on who has the most money, is a (fascist – as in corporocratic) recipe for DESTROYING the innovations and economic benefits we’ve enjoyed for almost 30 years. Title II may not be perfect answer but it will go a long way to keeping the playing field relatively level to good ideas that don’t originate in the stale and moneyed culture of the corporate corner offices.

  • Roger Levy

    Poor argument. This does not explain HOW the old law is ill-suited. It just points out that it is old.

    • Michael Savich

      That was my first thought too. This article is a classic straw man.

  • JHoughton1

    The link to this article promised to explain what “permission based” means in the context of telecommunications and the internet. It doesn’t.