FCC Prepares for Broadband Regulation Inquiry to Joy of Google, Amazon

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-06-17

FCC Prepares for Broadband Regulation Inquiry to Joy of Google, Amazon

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 June 17 to court feedback on ways to regulate broadband access, with Democrats winning out over the Republicans in a classic partisan matchup over the future of the Web.

The key proposal includes FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's plan to define broadband access as a telecommunications service subject to "common carrier" obligations, which calls for all data traffic to be equally treated.

This "light touch" aims to strike middle ground by rejecting the enforcement of legacy phone regulation to broadband, as well as the elimination of broadband oversight by the FCC. 

This so-called "third way" is a network neutrality approach lauded by companies such as Google and Amazon.com.

These Internet companies believe that Internet service providers such as Verizon, Comcast AT&T should not be allowed to throttle the Web services and applications they offer to consumers.

AT&T and the other carriers vehemently oppose such regulation, suggesting such a move would hinder innovation and investment.

Republican Commissioner Meredith A. Baker sided with the carriers when she offered her dissenting vote because:

"opening a proceeding creates so much regulatory uncertainty that it harms incentives for investment in broadband infrastructure and makes providers and investors alike think twice about moving forward with network investments under this dark regulatory cloud. This outcome can only harm consumers who need better, faster and more ubiquitous broadband today."

Genachowski disagreed.  

"It's not hard to understand why companies subject to an agency's oversight would prefer no oversight at all if they had the chance," he said. "But a system of checks and balances in the communications sector has served our country well for many decades, fostering trillions of dollars of investment in wired and wireless communications networks, and in content, applications and services-and creating countless jobs and consumer benefits."

The Third Way Backstory Hinges on Courts Comcast Decision


Google's Washington Telecom and Media Counsel Richard Whitt voiced Google's support for the third way June 17: "Broadband infrastructure is too important to be left outside of any oversight."

Experts say the issue appears bound to drag out in court, which is familiar ground for this clash of ideologies and politics.

Genachowski and his administration suggested the third way after a court ruled April 6 that the FCC did not have the authority to order Comcast to stop throttling BitTorrent traffic and that Comcast could regulate Internet traffic over its own system.

The FCC in 2008 had complained that Comcast and other Internet providers must treat content that traverses their pipes equally. Comcast took the FCC to the court and won, with the court claiming the FCC had overstepped its boundaries.

Comcast's victory dealt a blow to the National Broadband Plan, according to the FCC. The agency said the Comcast ruling impeded plans to accelerate broadband access and adoption in rural America and connect low-income Americans, among other recommendations.   

The third way aims to bring the power back to the FCC, which said today that public comments on the matter will accepted until July 12. Reply comments are slated for Aug. 12.

Reuters noted that the FCC will digest information collected from public comments to determine how to regulate broadband Internet access.

"A formal proposal could include another public comment period and a rule in which the five commissioners would accept or reject with a vote. Or it could skip the proposal and say it will regulate broadband under existing phone regulations. That could happen this year."

The FCC rule would in turn pave the way for the National Broadband Plan.


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