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Public interest group urges FCC to reclassify broadband

Update: on Commissioner Copps Quote

A public interest group told the Federal Communications Commission it should reclassify broadband Internet services to erase any uncertainty over the agency’s authority to oversee Internet service providers.

Public Knowledge said in public comments filed to the FCC that a slew of policies the agency is working on are in jeopardy as fresh doubts have emerged whether the commission even has the jurisdiction to implement rules over broadband.

“Without clear legal authority, the commission might find itself unable to respond to the needs of public safety, unable to protect privacy, and incapable of collecting needed information to ensure that the Internet remains affordable, open and competitive,” said Harold Feld, legal director for Public Knowledge.

Specifically, that casts questions over FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s push for net neutrality rules. The agency is supposed to come up with a plan to bring broadband to every U.S. home. But if the agency is unable to regulate Internet access, opponents could challenge any attempts to create new policies such as Universal Service Fund reform.

Questions over the FCC’s legal authority over broadband services emerged after a federal appeals court grilled the agency over its 2008 ruling against Comcast for allegedly blocking the Internet file-sharing application, BitTorrent.

Post Tech wrote about how comments from judges in the D.C. appeals court have sparked some at the FCC to consider a reclassification of broadband services under Title 2 of the Communications Act. That would put broadband, currently held at an arms-length from the FCC’s jurisdiction, clearly under control of the agency.

Genachowski’s office has said it still believes it can win Comcast’s case against it in the appeals court. But if backed into a corner, the FCC could push forward with a reclassification. To reclassify would undo deregulation of Internet services in 2002 by then FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who placed broadband services under Title 1, over which the agency had "ancillary" jurisdiction. The FCC could reclassify broadband by introducing an order and voting within the commission.

Commissioner Michael Copps hasn't commented on the idea of reclassification or the federal appeals case. But he said in a story:

"While I am still hopeful that we'll win the case, I am absolutely certain that consumers expect protection against gatekeeper control," said Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat. "That's why we need to move forward with whatever tools we have at our disposal to ensure an open Internet."

By Cecilia Kang  |  January 27, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Broadband , Comcast , FCC  
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In the posting above, Cecilia Kant supports -- without citing any opposing views or arguments -- the views of a lobbying group which lobbies for, and is directly supported by, her sponsor Google. This astroturf group claims to be a "public interest" group but is lobbying for something that would help Google but harm the public: intensive, expensive regulation of broadband services. If it were to happen, prices would go up, quality of service would go down, and competition and innovation would vanish. And it very well might not even be legal for the FCC to do it. But Cecilia's sponsor Google (note that its logo appears twice on this page!), whose huge networks would remain unregulated and would give it an advantage over all potential competitors, would be happy.

Posted by: squirma | January 27, 2010 7:07 AM | Report abuse

Since the change of Internet services away from a more responsible regulatory structure, consumer choice and competition have already disappeared. There were once thousands of ISPs. Prices have gone up, speeds of data services are abysmal contrasted with what consumers can get overseas. A reclassification would help the public.

Also, Public Knowledge is not an astroturf group. And Cecilia Kang is not sponsored by Google. That's just silly.

Art Brodsky
Public Knowledge

Posted by: artbrodsky | January 27, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Art, as an employee of the astroturf group in question, you are hardly one to comment on its integrity. But readers can judge that integrity on their own -- starting with the fact that nothing you say above is true. There is vibrant and growing competition; retail prices are falling; speeds and coverage are increasing. And Public Knowledge (for which you work) is, indeed, an "astroturf" group. It receives substantial amounts of money and in-kind contributions from Google and from groups which in turn receive money from Google. (Every paycheck you receive contains at least some Googlebucks, which the company has spread liberally around DC.) As for Cecilia: take a look at any page of her blog, where the script "google_side_box.js" brings in advertising placed by Google. Or look at her fawning attention to Google -- presenting its agenda uncritically with no counterpoint, as in the article above, or primarily or exclusively quoting sources from Google's captive DC lobbying groups. (The article above happens to be a particularly salient example.) The same bias extends to her news articles. In my opinion, The Washington Post should dismiss Cecilia for blatant conflicts of interest, biased reporting and violations of journalistic ethics.

Posted by: squirma | January 27, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

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