Legislation that would regulate broadband services will stifle investment and innovation that over the past 10 years has provided users unprecedented speed and access to the Internet, said former U.S. Attorney General William Barr, executive vice president and general counsel for Verizon, in a speech at Fordham Law School on Jan. 16.
Delivering the Center on Law and Information Policy’s inaugural lecture, Barr said that Verizon is spending $18 billion to install fiber optic lines that will carry Internet traffic at speeds unimaginable only a few years ago. He warned, however, that federal regulations barring telephone and cable companies from establishing a tiered system in which companies could pay a fee to providers to travel on their network’s fastest connections or to use enhanced services would bring such investments and innovation to a screeching halt.
“We didn’t build these networks, we cannot put this money at risk, Wall Street would not allow us to spend this money for regulated returns and regulatory control,” said Barr, who served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993. “This is a competitive market. This is not what regulators are used to working with: regulated markets where competition is limited. We need to allow the marketplace to work.”
The idea of tolls and a tiered system has prompted concerns among companies like Google and Amazon that access providers could become the Internet’s de facto gatekeepers, blocking or limiting access to certain content or Web sites. Barr refuted those claims, referring to expansion and innovation in access that new infrastructure investments will bring to the Internet. The Center on Law and Information Policy was founded at Fordham Law School to make significant contributions to the development of law and policy for the information economy. The Law & Information Society Lecture is designed to explore major issues related to the impact of law and technology on society.