National Cable & Telecommunications Association president and former Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell says there will be fewer distinctions between what cable does and what the Web does, over time. What Powell clearly will not want to talk about is that the same is true of the “distinctions” between telcos and cable companies in voice services. Distinctions Disappearing Between Cable, Web

It hasn’t been a “live” and relevant argument since the run-up to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, but the fact remains: the regulatory regimes governing the “cable TV” business and telecommunications are different and arguably unfair in light of the fact that services sold in both industries now are functionally identical.

So the big issue is whether telcos get more freedom, by movement to the “cable” model, which is less “free” than other media, but more free than telecom companies routinely deal with.

Or, one might argue, should cable companies have less freedom by being brought under the same regulatory framework as telcos face. In the U.S. regulatory environment, newspapers and magazines and web media are the most free of regulations.

Broadcasters and cable are in a middle bucket, with more rules and restrictions than media face, while telecom companies are the most heavily regulated. As the walls between industries, functions, services, apps and revenue models continue to dissolve, though, you wind up with a regulatory mess, where like services receive distinctly unequal treatment.

The issue has never been fully addressed, and might not be substantially changed the next time the nation gets ready to revamp its communications or broadcasting rules.

One has no immediate sense that this is on the agenda. But the problem will remain, if and when such discussions do move to a stage where action might be taken.

Which existing models ought to be applied in a new context? Should less-regulated industries get heavier regulation, and less freedom, or should more-regulated industries receive the same freedoms their competitors enjoy?

In other words, we have environments that, on one hand, reflect the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. So media are “most free.” On the other hand, we have “common carrier” regulation, representing the least freedom. Then we have broadcasters and cable in the middle. All that might have made sense when the three distinct types of functions and businesses were that, distinct.

That increasingly is not true any longer, so the regulatory environment is out of step with “realities on the ground.” It might not be a “live” issue now, but it will be, at some point.

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