Internet and Technology
June 18, 2015
Will regulations hinder innovation?

Regulators worldwide are moving to protect Internet competition in ways that some critics fear threaten innovation and the Web’s libertarian traditions. Under U.S. government scrutiny, Comcast and Time Warner Cable in April dropped plans for a $45.2 billion merger that would have given the new company control of 57 percent of high-speed Internet access and 30 percent of pay television in the United States. In February, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required high-speed Internet service companies to treat all content providers equally and voted to overturn state laws restricting city-provided Internet access. Businesses and Republican lawmakers filed lawsuits and introduced legislation to overturn the FCC actions. In Europe, regulators charged Google with skewing search results to favor its own business and hampering innovation and consumer choice.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on March 25, 2015. He faced tough questioning from committee Republicans about the FCC’s move to regulate Internet service like a utility. “The Internet has replaced the functions of the telephone” and regulations should be changed accordingly, according to Wheeler. (Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla)   Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on March 25, 2015. He faced tough questioning from committee Republicans about the FCC’s move to regulate Internet service like a utility. “The Internet has replaced the functions of the telephone” and regulations should be changed accordingly, according to Wheeler. (Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla)

In a year when major Internet-related disputes appeared headed for court, one of the largest stopped short. Under scrutiny from federal agencies, Comcast on April 24 dropped its attempt to acquire Time Warner Cable — a deal that would have joined America’s two largest cable companies and created a gigantic provider of Internet access and cable TV service as well as television content. Now, Charter Communications, the nation’s fourth-largest cable company, has resumed a Time Warner courtship that Charter gave up when Comcast made a higher bid in early 2014. Charter’s acquisition of Time Warner, announced May 26, also faces government review. Federal opposition to Comcast’s $45.2 billion takeover was the latest in a series of actions in which regulators around the world have moved to protect competition online. Other regulatory disputes apparently headed to court include:

  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in February promulgated net neutrality rules that require high-speed Internet service providers to treat all content providers — such as Netflix and Google — equally.

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