Net Neutrality Looks Dead in the Clutches of Congress

News Analysis: The federal courts and Congress have effectively hamstrung any effort by the Federal Communications Commission to regulate Internet service providers. While it's still possible that a sympathetic lawmaker will quietly file legislation supporting net neutrality, political resistance and the distractions of the impending election campaigns will certainly keep any initiative on the back burner.

WASHINGTON-In May the backers of net neutrality rules thought they'd finally found salvation. After being told by a federal appeals court that the agency didn't have the authority to regulate broadband communications, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it would reclassify broadband as a telephone service, which it could regulate.

Unfortunately, later in the month, a majority of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle told the agency that it should not move forward with reclassification without consulting Congress.

You'd think that being told "No" by both the courts and the Congress would halt the FCC in its tracks. But that hasn't actually happened. The FCC announced in early June that it will put its ideas before the public in a June 17 hearing. There, the FCC said it will ask whether it should keep existing laws and policies in place, reclassify Internet carriers under Title II, like phone companies, or find a "third way." At this point, it's not totally clear what that third way might be, but considering the current mood at the FCC to regulate Internet carriers, it will probably involve a new classification.

Right now, however, the FCC is in a holding pattern in its efforts to regulate the Internet or to provide consumer protections beyond the already limited scope provided under current laws. While the commission is looking for some means of accomplishing its end within the constraints of current law and current court rulings, the Internet carriers have launched a full offensive, lobbying Congress for all they're worth to prevent any changes that would impose more regulations.

The result is that for the time being at least, net neutrality is a dead issue. It's possible that the commission may attempt to defy the concerns expressed by Congress, but in Washington that's a sure way to end the careers for the people responsible. The commission may try its third way when it figures out what it is, but Comcast and the other carriers who sued the commission the last time have already said they'd do it again if the commission tried to pull a fast one.

Like it or not, Congress is going to insist that it, not the FCC, is the entity that decides communications policy in the United States. Despite the fact that the commission could conceivably find a way to exert some level of regulation over the Internet, it would be political suicide to do so.

By now you've heard enough from all sides of this issue to simply wish it would all go away. Everyone claims to be in favor of net neutrality, but only if it's defined their way. Meanwhile, all sides are also spreading FUD throughout the land, which will work to paralyze any fast action in Congress.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...