Chairman Genachowski took a step in the right direction today by announcing the FCC’s intention to regulate broadband in order to ensure net neutrality. Media reform advocates are confident that this is good news for preserving the open Internet and promoting universal access.
The victory isn’t complete, however. While Genachowski proposed reclassifying broadband as a “telecommunications service” so that the FCC has clear authority to protect consumers and promote competition, the Chairman intends to use a procedure called "forbearance" to broadly waive all of the competition provisions of the Telecommunications Act. Considering that the National Broadband Plan noted that 96 percent of Americans have at most two choices of internet service providers–that we have a real problem with monopolies and duopolies–we need the FCC to make use of its statutory powers to address this issue.
After an internal review at the FCC, the process will call for public comment and consulting with stakeholders. That means industry lobbyists will have more time to plead their case to the Chairman and the grassroots needs to stay involved. When the Washington Post reported earlier this week that Genachowski intended to cave to industry lobbyists nearly 250,000 citizens signed a letter from FreePress demanding that the FCC reclaim its authority. We need to maintain that level of vigilance in the coming weeks.
Commissioner Copps recognized that today’s announcement is a mixed bag. In a released statement he said, "Today Chairman Genachowski announced his plan to remove the legal cloud hanging over the FCC’s ability to protect America’s broadband users. This plan can put us on the right road–if we travel that road swiftly, surely and with the primary goal of protecting consumers foremost in our minds. Frankly, I would have preferred plain and simple [ reclassification] through a declaratory ruling and limited, targeted forbearance…. The devil will be in the details as we work to put the Commission back on solid legal footing… We must avoid another forbearance binge. We experienced a mad rush to forbearance in previous Commissions and it usually created many more problems than it resolved… The path we start down today must do more than just put this agency’s authority over broadband back on life-support–it must ensure our going-forward, healthy ability to protect consumers. One near-death experience is enough."
According to The Washington Post, sources say that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski will soon retreat from the Obama Administration’s pledge to deliver a new and more democratic technology agenda. Reportedly, the Chairman will continue the Bush-era classification of the internet as an unregulated "information service," rather than reclassifying it as a "telecommunications service" subject to FCC authority.