Elections Will Keep Net Neutrality on Back Burner

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2010-06-13 Print this article Print


This, of course, assumes that Congress is disposed to fast action, which it's not. The August recess is drawing near, members of the House are all up for re-election, and the Senate has a Supreme Court nominee to confirm. Any kind of communications law change is pretty far down the priority list.

The November elections, meanwhile, may seal the fate of net neutrality legislation, even if it were to get written and introduced into committee this late in the session. Members won't be around to deal with the bill if it were to appear because they'll be off running for election. After November, the political landscape will change. Even if the Republicans don't take control of the House and Senate, they'll certainly gain influence, and the GOP isn't in favor of net neutrality as the FCC currently envisions it.

If the Republicans do gain a majority in either house after November, then net neutrality is dead. If they don't, it's still dead because the Democrats will be focusing on their core legislative efforts so they can claim at least some accomplishments in time for the presidential election. Nobody on the Democratic side of the aisle wants to introduce uncertainty into what is likely to be a very difficult presidential election.

The bottom line is that any net neutrality legislation is basically dead, at least in the form of a bill formally setting communications policy in place. It's possible that someone could insert language supporting the FCC's efforts into some other bill, and that it would make it through the conference committee and into law, but it's a very long shot.

It's also possible that the FCC will try to force the issue, but that seems unlikely. According to Bruce Mehlman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, an anti-net neutrality group, the FCC and its Chairman Julius Genachowski likely will bow to the wishes of Congress and wait until enabling legislation can be enacted. Despite the leanings of Mehlman's group, he's probably right.

The reality is that the FCC took its best shot at exerting authority over the Internet and lost big. Right now, if Comcast wants to limit you from using file sharing software, it can. It can even make Google off limits, slow YouTube to a trickle, and prevent you from watching shows on network sites such as Hulu instead of its own sites for which it can charge.

There is, of course, one other hope, which is competition. As other carriers enter areas previously monopolized by Comcast and other companies, customers will have an incentive to move to an Internet service with more flexible rules. The growth of 4G wireless and WiMax services will have the same effect. So while the government has failed in its attempt-at least for now-to regulate the Internet, the free market may make it happen. Just don't expect it to happen overnight.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel