Opinions on what the FCC should do next
The Washington Post and The New York Times editorial boards jumped into a debate on the future of the Federal Communications Commission and they didn't agree.
The Washington Post editorial board commented last Saturday on questions about the Federal Communcations Commission's authority over broadband services. It believes a move to reclassify broadband services the same way it does regular telephone service would be a "naked power grab."
Last week, the D.C. federal appeals court turned back the Federal Communications Commission's recent effort to regulate the Internet. The legal provision cited by the FCC, the judges concluded, does not give the agency authority over Internet service providers (ISPs) such as Comcast and AT&T.
The decision, written by a Bill Clinton appointee and joined by two Republican-named judges, is well-reasoned. It also raises a question: Should the FCC have sway over the Internet? (Disclosure: The Washington Post Co. has interests in broadcast and cable television and businesses that depend on the Internet, all of which could be affected by FCC action or inaction.)
For the past eight years, the FCC has rightly taken a light regulatory approach to the Internet, though it believed it had authority to do more. Now that the agency has lost in court, some advocates in the technology industries are urging the agency to invoke a different section of law and subject ISPs to more aggressive regulation, until now reserved for telephone companies and other "common carriers." Such a move could allow the FCC to dictate, among other things, rates that ISPs charge consumers. This level of interference would require the FCC to engage in a legal sleight of hand that would amount to a naked power grab. It is also unnecessary: There have been very few instances where ISPs have been accused of wrongdoing -- namely, unfair manipulation of online traffic -- and those rare instances have been cleared up voluntarily once consumers pressed the companies. FCC interference could damage innovation in what has been a vibrant and rapidly evolving marketplace. Read here for full story.
The New York Times editorial board, disagreed. It said for such an important medium, broadband services need to have a federal regulatory overseer. And it thinks the FCC should reclassify broadband to be a common carrier service, like regulator phone service:
Any move now by the F.C.C to redefine broadband would surely unleash a torrent of lawsuits by broadband providers, but the commission has solid legal grounds to do that. To begin with, the three arguments advanced by the F.C.C. during the Bush years have proved wrong.
Rather than seeing an explosion of new competition, the broadband access business has consolidated to the point that many areas of the country have only one provider. Broadband Internet has unbundled into a business with many unrelated information service providers vying for space on the pipelines of a few providers.
And most persuasively: broadband access is probably the most important communication service of our time. One that needs a robust regulator.
For full story.
And my newsroom collegue and columnist, Rob Pegoraro, offered a view more in line with that of The Times. He sees a need for the FCC to act as a stronger referee of Internet service providers because he doesn't believe there are enough choices for users to pick from.
If your Internet provider jerks you around and slows you down, what are you going to do about it?
Fourteen years ago, the answer was easy: Fire the company and switch to one of dozens of other firms selling dial-up access. Seven years ago, you could choose from a healthy variety of digital-subscriber-line services, thanks in part to "line sharing" rules that forced incumbent carriers to open their infrastructure to competitors.
But over the past few years, your options have shriveled to just one or two companies selling the fastest access.
And two weeks ago, the Federal Communications Commission lost most of its authority to police abuses by Internet providers.
The combination of those two factors explains why the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit's April 6 ruling undercutting the FCC's ability to write "net neutrality" regulations has people upset: If we had vigorous competition among broadband providers, we might not need the Feds to referee the market.
Read here for full story.
April 19, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Broadband , FCC
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Posted by: LBrettGlass | April 19, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse
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