Bring up the term "regulation" and you're often going to think of heavy-handed mandates, byzantine rules and unresponsive bureaucracies. Despite this popular image of regulation, it sometimes works.
Ars Technica reminds us of the 40-year-old Carterphone decision that the FCC handed down 40 years ago yesterday. The landmark decision allowed third parties to start attaching any device they wanted to the public phone network so long as it did not cause interference. Not only did it let us pick and choose our handsets, it also gave birth to devices as varied as the answering machine and modem.
The decision has even been cited in mandates to support CableCARD (despite it being a largely stillborn technology) and open access on the 700MHz spectrum, something that Verizon is trying to subvert. With the Carterphone decision in mind, we should also be exited to know that in addition to banning exclusive cable television contracts in apartment buildings, they also dropped the hammer on exclusive phone service.
Even so, regulation sometimes fails us. Some small ISPs are having their day before the Supreme Court to nail AT&T to the wall on wholesale line-sharing rates. Their argument is that the fees were designed to give the incumbent carrier a significant advantage over competitors. Many CLECs and competing ISPs brought up the same allegations throughout the 90s, and with fewer ISPs today than in 1997, the accusation has legs.
There's also the issue of network neutrality hanging up in the air. Big companies like AT&T and Verizon are scared to death of mandates from Congress, especially with how badly Comcast has been skewered over their secretive throttling and booting users who use too much of their "unlimited" Internet. Their angle is to try and get the FCC to approve a plan favorable to their interests before a less-friendly White House takes over. The good news is that the mere threat of regulation has forced them to move pretty far from their original positions, a move that's good for consumers.
When you have a network with competing service providers, interchangable equipment and freely-moving applications, consumers and innovation win. Open platforms like the kind that Carterphone created should be encouraged instead of hampered.