A Coming Singularity in Media Regulation: The American Case
The singularity identified in this article is the prospect that the cable-based Internet service provider could potentially become the sole vendor capable of providing truly high-speed residential broadband connectivity in the United States. The premise is that broadband Internet replaces virtually all of its legacy competitors such as analog telephony and terrestrial broadcasting. This prospectively unchallenged chokepoint for political communication, advertising, entertainment, and economic transactions could extract monopoly rents and distort otherwise open political processes. As minimally acceptable broadband data rates escalate, the physical limitations of copper-wire technologies increasingly limit the incumbent telephone carrier as a meaningful competitor. Satellite-based Internet service providers face equally if not even more daunting technical challenges in providing true broadband connectivity at scale. To avoid a return to the inflexibility of full tariff-based common carrier regulation of an inadvertent, but potentially de facto monopolist, there remains one potential for meaningful competitive technology for provision of broadband Internet—fixed terrestrial wireless Internet based on fifth-generation and successor cellular technologies with competitive monthly fees for unlimited data.