Editorial: State of the Broadband Union

President Barack Obama last week put a stake in the ground on high-speed broadband, with FCC chairman Tom Wheeler following up with some of the commission’s own proposed action items.

As B&C reported last week, Wheeler plans to vote this month on increasing the FCC’s definition of high-speed broadband from 4 Mbps to 25 Mbps, and to vote next month on petitions asking the FCC to preempt state laws limiting municipal broadband.

The president is clearly building his legacy in this second term, free from having to run for another. It is also clearly an affirmation that the Internet is an unprecedented force in American life and that the government is likely in that space to stay.

This is where those who advise a little caution are tagged as Luddites trying to throw a monkey wrench in the wheels.com of progress. We aren’t.

But sometimes enthusiasm for what the Internet can make possible, and the speed at which those decisions can be realized, perhaps even before their consequences are fully vetted, argues for at least acknowledging the possibility that speed, while of the essence, can morph into recklessness without someone watching the engine.

That is all by way of suggesting there is an argument for not discouraging private enterprise—in this case, cable and other ISPs—from investing the multi-billions needed to build out broadband at whatever speed is preferred—and cable operators are increasing those speeds daily. It’s also about not painting them with the broad brush of evil-terminating monopolists ready to block, or discriminate, or paid-prioritize unless micromanaged into submission by a well-meaning government.

Reasonable network neutrality rules are, well, reasonable, particularly if, as many ISPs argue, they simply codify what those providers are already doing, or not doing. But overregulating broadband with prescriptive rules has its own risks, including extending the legal fight in perpetuity.

While we are on the subject of the president’s broadband-related pre-State of the Union press tour—which is where he outlined his broadband plans last week—he is right to put an exclamation point on cybersecurity.

We don’t agree with everything in his plan, though a deadline for informing consumers where their info has been hacked sounds like a no-brainers. But at least he seems to have a plan. If legislators want something different, and some always do, they should find a way to stop yelling at each other and pass something.

Strong cybersecurity protections are not a luxury. Washington needs to stop acting as though it is a political football to be tossed around, then put away for another day.