BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Many a politician has praised the virtues of a hands-off policy with respect to the net, but recently Washington regulators and lawmakers have been weighing in on America's future on line. Thomas Weber who writes the E-World column for the Wall Street Journal says the politicians are out of their depth. He says the best example of political meddling is the controversial Tauzin-Dingell bill that passed the House a couple of weeks ago. If it passes the Senate, the Tauzin-Dingell bill would overturn a law that currently requires local phone companies, fondly called the baby bells, to open their phone lines to competitors before they offer high speed date services. Why are some policymakers now so eager to "re-regulate" the world of high speed internet access? Weber says the reason is clear.
THOMAS WEBER: Right now anything that's broadband and anything that could possibly spur economic growth in some sense of the word is an easy sell.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What is broadband?
THOMAS WEBER:Broadband to you and me is getting on the internet at a high speed, like a cable modem or a DSL line, but there's super-ultra high speed broadband with fiber optics that universities use and businesses use, and believe it or not part of the debate in Washington right now claims that even though a pretty good chunk of America can get broadband already and apparently not that many people feel like they want to spend the extra money for it, it's too slow. That's why people aren't buying it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So-- Tauzin-Dingell bill and its proponents say we can provide even faster service that the public may or may not buy if we lift this restriction from the baby bells; so how would that work?
THOMAS WEBER: Well, the rosy thinking goes: okay, well you take these restrictions off, and suddenly the bells will start writing checks to Cisco and Intel and, you know, all these companies on the West Coast and that will help the economy. The bells historically have not really done anything unless there was a competitive threat to them. DSL is this decades-old technology that basically sat on the shelf for a while until the cable companies said gee, you know, we could offer faster internet access over these cable lines. When they started actually rolling that out, all of a sudden DSL got very interesting to bells. And by the way, even though Tauzin-Dingell isn't expected to get through the Senate, over at the FCC they're working on a proposal that would do the same thing, basically, as Tauzin-Dingell.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:You've complained in your article that the government meddles too much in the affairs of the net so isn't this the government stepping away and letting the market take over by lifting this restriction?
THOMAS WEBER: Not when you're talking about the phone company. I mean if you wanted to unravel the regulations governing the phone company, you'd have to go back decades and decades, and it's going to be a lot more complicated than just Tauzin-Dingell.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Congress, though, isn't the only part of the government that's been getting entangled in these issues. The copyright office is considering a new way to tackle unauthorized on-line radio shows -- broadcasting of music.
THOMAS WEBER: I don't even like to think about this copyright office situation, cause it just makes me feel sick. The fact is, most of the people who are doing it, they don't have big audiences. They have their friends and their family and some fans they hear from word of mouth.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, all the copyright office is doing is demanding that they pay some sort of royalty to the music companies.
THOMAS WEBER: An amount that's twice what professional radio stations are going to have to pay.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:We have a recession. We have-- a high tech industry that is perhaps sliding on the skids, although that may be over-stating things a bit. We have these moves to lift restrictions in order to invigorate the industry and to protect the creative property of musicians and possibly filmmakers - Hollywood. Summarize where you think all the moves you've just described are going to take us.
THOMAS WEBER: I think we're headed into a period where government regulation on the internet is going to favor the established big guys and is going to be very hurtful to the little guys.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:We had somebody on recently representing the cable companies that said the little guy, the little guy -- there's nothing wrong with big!
THOMAS WEBER: Big isn't bad with some sort of market activity in place, but-- I think you should look at what's going on in music right now and say -- hey, consumers have spoken! They don't like paying 16 dollars for a CD; they think they should pay maybe 10 bucks a month and get all the music they want to listen to! That's the market in action. Maybe we should just let the market take over everything!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We don't allow such expressions of unrestrained capitalism on this program.
THOMAS WEBER: Fortunately at the Wall Street Journal they certainly do. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you very much. Thomas Weber writes the E-World column for the Wall Street Journal. [MUSIC]