Julius Genachowski is in a hurry.
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is arguing that the commission must act quickly to “restore the longstanding deregulatory–as opposed to ‘no-regulatory’ or ‘over-regulatory’–compact” that governed broadband Internet access services prior to a recent court decision. Such an approach is urgently needed to “restore the status quo,” he claims.
If the FCC cannot regulate the Internet, it may die. The telephone and television industries are declining, whereas communications industries which the FCC monitors to some extent but does not regulate, e.g., the Internet backbone, broadband Internet access and wireless, are thriving.
Genacowski’s plan would reclassify broadband as a “telecommunications” service subject to blunt, onerous, industrial-era regulation under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 — which governs common carriers — and then forbear from enforcing most of Title II’s heavy-handed provisions.
Broadband services haven’t been subject to Title II regulation for several years, so reclassification would not restore the status quo. It would harken back to a bygone era.
Julius Genachowski is in a hurry.
Late last week the Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines to open a proceeding to “seek the best legal framework for broadband Internet access,” a process that could culminate in the imposition of stifling, telephone utility style regulations on America’s privately financed broadband networks pursuant to Title II of the 1934 Communications Act.
A statement by Commissioner Michael J. Copps explains in more detail than the rest why he thinks regulation is necessary for achieving this country’s “broadband hopes and dreams.”
The FCC has been deregulating communications services in response to increasing competition for years. Copps and others believe it is necessary to reverse course, although in his statement Copps doesn’t question the policy of deregulating a competitive market. He questions the facts, arguing that broadband is less competitive than it used to be. This is a misleading argument.
Rep. John D. Dingell, Jr. (D-MI), Dean of the U.S. House of Representatives, Chairman Emeritus of the Energy & Commerce Committee (1981-95 and 2007-09) in a letter last week to young FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski regarding Genachowski’s proposal to apply telephone-style regulation to the Internet: I fear your “third way” risks reversal by the courts, especially given the scope of its efforts to expand the Commission’s authority. It also puts at risk significant past and future investments, perhaps to the detriment of the Nation’s economic recovery and continued technological leadership. More importantly, it may paralyze more holistic regulatory efforts to keep the Internet open to consumers, advance cybersecurity, protect consumer data privacy, and ensure universal access to and deployment of Read More ›
National Journal notes ($) that while Free Press frequently taps the media to slam its opponents as fronts for special interests who won’t reveal their funding, much of Free Press’s own funding is concealed. Free Press staff members “want to call everyone else a front group … [but] they don’t subject themselves to the same scrutiny,” [Phil] Kerpen [of Americans for Prosperity] contended. The charges of Astroturfing that Free Press aims at other groups, [Mike] McCurry [a former White House spokesman, who now runs Public Strategies Washington, a government-relations firm whose Arts+Labs coalition supports the telecoms in the net-neutrality debate] said, carry “a little whiff of hypocrisy.” Always better to debate the arguments, isn’t it? Shooting the messenger is usually Read More ›
Congress will revisit the Communications Act of 1934 (see this and this) in the aftermath of an appellate court decision limiting the Federal Communications Commission’s ability to regulate the Internet. “Stakeholders” will be invited to participate in a series of bipartisan, issue-focused “meetings” beginning in June, according to the congressional statements. Hopefully congressional leaders are contemplating a transparent process consisting of public hearings. If they are planning closed-door listening sessions with special interest representatives, that could encourage self-serving agendas and obscure horse-trading which can wind up costing consumers a bundle. Before it wrote the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Senate Commerce Committee alone compiled an 817-page hearing record (S. Hrg. 103-599) on the basis of hearings on Feb. 23, Mar. Read More ›
A letter signed by 74 House Democrats warns FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski that imposing telephone-style regulation on the Internet could undermine a bipartisan consensus that has resulted in broadband industry infrastructure investment of approximately $60 billion per year. In the last decade, multiple providers and the hundreds of thousands of workers they employ have brought high speed connections to 95 percent of U.S. households where two-thirds of Americans now access the Internet through broadband at home. The lawmakers claim Genachowski’s proposal to regulate broadband services will create uncertainty that will “jeopardize jobs and deter needed investment for years to come,” and requests that the FCC refrain from taking further steps to regulate broadband services without additional direction from Congress. A Read More ›
The FCC’s newest plan for seizing control of the last-mile broadband connections we all use to access the Internet would classify broadband as a ‘telecommunications service,’ which will put the FCC under constant pressure to resurrect the “unbundling” regulations that precipitated the telecom crash of 2000 by requiring owners of last-mile links to homes and offices to share their lines with rivals. Remember the CLECs? They were essentially a hothouse product of regulation, and they not only failed to deliver bandwidth but they brought down the whole high tech economy. As a result of that carnage the FCC drew back, last-mile bandwidth was declared to be an ‘information service,’ and thus not subject to the labyrinthine rules that were applied Read More ›
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski outlined his game plan for asserting FCC control over broadband services this week in a speech entitled: “The Third Way: A Narrowly Tailored Broadband Framework.” This is the FCC’s third major attempt to regulate broadband services, as my colleague Jim Harper pointed out in conversation today. I think it will also be the FCC’s third strike. Genachowski is engaging in a futile attempt to slice and dice the Internet as a definitional matter for the purpose of expanding his agency’s regulatory grasp while hopefully containing many of the harmful consequences of regulatory overreach. Regulating an essential component of the Internet as a “telecommunications service” would still amount to a form of Internet regulation in violation of Read More ›
The Federal Communications Commission was in Seattle soliciting public testimony in an effort to regulate the Internet. The Seattle Times kindly published a column of mine arguing that the FCC should focus on spurring investment, not more regulation.
Protecting the Internet from the heavy hand of government regulation is not just a Republican goal. The following excerpt is from a 1999 speech by former FCC Chairman William E. Kennard (appointed by President Bill Clinton): What I would like to do is take the opportunity here today to talk to you a little bit about why I believe the best way to achieve these values is to resist the urge to regulate right now. One reason is because of my vision that we will have multiple broadband pipes — cable, DSL, broadband wireless, satellite, terrestrial broadcast. That is why I think the debate that we are having today about unbundling and access to this cable pipe is fundamentally different Read More ›