FCC moves to assert authority over broadband

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted yesterday to seek public comment on its controversial plans for broadband regulation.

The FCC wants to bring broadband back under its aegis by classifying it as a telecommunications service, meaning it would be regulated in a similar way to telephone services.

The row blew up when the FCC tried to use its powers to prevent Comcast from blocking peer-to-peer file sharing. Comcast sued, and won.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski now says there are three possible plans. One keeps regulation the way it is; one introduces full regulation of broadband along the same lines as phone service, and the other - the so-called 'third way' - entails light regulation, along the lines of that imposed on mobile phone companies. This is the option facored by Genachowski.

Public comments must be received by August 12.

Some critics of the plan say broadband should be regulated by Congress; others that it should be barely regulated at all.

The Progress and Freedom Foundation has slammed the plan. "In its ongoing 'by-any-means-necessary' quest to regulate the Internet via Net Neutrality mandates, Chairman Genachowski's FCC continues to flaunt [sic] the rule of law and magically invent its own authority as it goes along," says president Adam Thierer.

"The FCC stands on the cusp of killing one of the great deregulatory success stories of modern economic history by reviving the discredited regulatory industrial policies of the 19th century."

In a letter to the leaders of the House Commerce Committee yesterday, Ranking House Commerce Committee Republican Joe Barton (TX) and Ranking Communications Subcommittee member Cliff Stearns (FL) called for a hearing.

"The Committee must not abdicate its oversight responsibilities on a matter of this magnitude, particularly in light of the huge repercussions such a decision could have on jobs, investment, broadband deployment and the US economy," the letter reads.

Net neutrality advocate Public Knowledge supports the 'third way' plan.

"The move to urge Congressional action in lieu of FCC action is a sham," says president and co-founder Gigi Sohn.  "Barton and Stearns said they 'do not see any urgency to legislate' on broadband issues.  They don’t want the FCC to act, but they don’t want Congress to act, either."