FCC to Restore Authority Over Net Neutrality, Broadband Service: Netroots Backlash Cited

UPDATE: Today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski issued a statement declaring his intention to reassert the agency's authority over Internet Service Providers. His statement was followed by a more detailed plan from the FCC's general counsel. The "third way" plan, designed to appease Net Neutrality advocates - while not completely enraging the phone and cable companies - is good in some areas, and bad in others.

It will enable the FCC to enact many important provisions of their celebrated National Broadband Plan, including Net Neutrality and modifying government subsidy of Internet services. However, the new plan explicitly states that the FCC will not try to advance policies that promote more competition and affordability. Genachowski will use a technical process called "forbearance" to strip some of the agency's authority.

This approach mirrors the major shortfall in the original broadband plan: it is conspicuously missing tough provisions that would foster competition in a nation where 97% of markets have two or less broadband providers. Lack of competition is the primary reason the US has fallen from 4th to 22nd globally in broadband speed and adoption in the past ten years.

Fortunately, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps issued a strong statement today, cautioning the chairman from weakening the agency's authority by going on a "forbearance binge."

In response to widespread netroots backlash, the chairman of the FCC has decided to choose a path toward a broadband policy framework that will protect Net Neutrality and promote universal access.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Chairman plans to restore the status quo as it existed prior to the court decision in order to fulfill the agency's goals to bring broadband to all Americans and preserve a free and open Internet. The recent court decision determined that changed made by the Bush-era FCC had stripped the agency from authority to regulate Internet broadband providers like Comcast and ATT.

Assuming that the Chairman's proposal is reasonable, it is a clear signal that the FCC is backing away from the cliff, and charting a path toward a sensible broadband policy framework that will protect consumers and promote universal access.

That is welcome news, but we must not rush to judgment on whether the FCC has gone far enough to protect consumers with the new proposal. Public interest groups are awaiting details that will likely be released on Thursday. Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.