This coming Thursday marks the next step in the raging debate regarding the ambitious effort of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate the Internet. On June 17th, the FCC will conduct an open meeting in which they will discuss their plans for so-called "reclassification" of broadband Internet in order to impose net neutrality regulations, an issue that has been the cause of much dispute in the past several months.
The root of this disagreement lies in the Comcast Corp vs. FCC U.S. Court of Appeals ruling this past April. It's a long story (surprise!), but Comcast had been exposed as slowing down traffic on some torrent sites in order to prevent their network from being overloaded and the FCC attempted to crack down on them legally. The Supreme Court ruled, however, that the FCC lacked the authority to dictate how the Comcast Corporation could manage its network. But even without that legal action, Comcast had announced that it would stop the practice after hearing an outpouring of opposition from their paying customers. The FCC was soundly rebuked for its regulatory overreach, and Comcast agreed to stop slowing traffic so as to avoid angering any more of their customers. End of story, right? Not exactly.
The Federal Communication Commission decided to retaliate against this Appeals Court ruling by redefining their terms. The FCC is likely to begin proceedings on Thursday in their plan to "reclassify" broadband Internet from its current status as an "information service" to a "telecommunications service" regulated under Title II of the Communications Act. For those of you who aren't regulation nerds (and really, who is?), that basically means that the Internet would change from being regulated under the lighter regime that has allowed its exponential growth in recent years to a regime intended to regulate monopoly telephone providers back before World War II. Because, you know, the Internet is totally what Congress had in mind when drafting Title II in 1934. That seemingly minor regulatory change could generate any number of extremely onerous new restrictions, like having the government dictate prices.
Though the FCC hopes to present this reclassification in light of warm, fuzzy terms like "consumer protection," the real question here is this: who should have the ability to manage the multi-billion dollar networks that comprise the heart of the Internet, bureaucrats in the FCC or the businesses that built, own, and maintain them?
On Thursday, this issue will be discussed in light of three specific points:
- The legitimacy and legality of the Commission's previous decision to call broadband Internet an "information service."
- The consequences of reclassifying broadband Internet as a "telecommunications service."
- Whether or not to adopt the Orwellian "third way," in which FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski would basically cross his heart and totally promise that this regulation would be minimal and not expand in size and scope like every other government effort ever.
The solution to this issue lies not in a cagey reclassification of terms, but rather a free market approach. Call it a "fourth way," if you're feeling Genachowski-esque. Recently a group of broadband and high-tech companies -- the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group -- voluntarily collaborated in order to facilitate discussion on how to create their own solution to network management and technical Internet issues. Much-deserved kudos to the member companies for cooperating to try to face the real issues of network management head on, as many of them have been at each other's throats for years in the marketplace and on net neutrality, for cooperating to try to face the real issues of network management head on. This is the solution we should be advocating because the last thing the Internet needs is an army of bureaucrats deciding how it should be managed.
After all, do you think we should trust the regulation of the Internet to the geniuses behind the unintentional comedy that is the FCC KidsZone? I mean, the site has information about cutting edge technology like PAGERS and ANSWERING MACHINES!
So how can you get involved? The best thing to do right now is to call your Member of Congress! It seems like a cliché, but it works and it's necessary. Since the FCC seems determined to do whatever the heck it wants, rules be damned, Congress needs to assert its authority to tell Genachowski to simmer down. Call your representatives and tell them you oppose net neutrality and reclassification in order to regulate the Internet!