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FCC Renews Push to Regulate Internet

May 5, 2010

Apparently, those hints earlier this week that the Federal Communications Commission would back off its net neutrality agenda were just a bluff.

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Apparently, those hints earlier this week that the Federal Communications Commission would back off its net neutrality agenda were just a bluff.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski did an about-face Wednesday afternoon, leaking to the press his plans to regulate broadband in defiance of a previous court order. Via Amy Schatz at The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—In a move that will stoke a battle over the future of the Internet, the federal government plans to propose regulating broadband lines under decades-old rules designed for traditional phone networks.

The decision, by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, is likely to trigger a vigorous lobbying battle, arraying big phone and cable companies and their allies on Capitol Hill against Silicon Valley giants and consumer advocates.

Breaking a deadlock within his agency, Mr. Genachowski is expected Thursday to outline his plan for regulating broadband lines. He wants to adopt "net neutrality" rules that require Internet providers like Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc. to treat all traffic equally, and not to slow or block access to websites.

The decision has been eagerly awaited since a federal appeals court ruling last month cast doubt on the FCC's authority over broadband lines, throwing into question Mr. Genachowski's proposal to set new rules for how Internet traffic is managed. The court ruled the FCC had overstepped when it cited Comcast in 2008 for slowing some customers' Internet traffic.

In a nod to such concerns, the FCC said in a statement that Mr. Genachowski wouldn't apply the full brunt of existing phone regulations to Internet lines and that he would set "meaningful boundaries to guard against regulatory overreach."

Ms. Schatz writes a killer lead. She's correct that the "battle over the future of the Internet" is now in full force. What I find most amazing is how Genachowski is completely disregarding the decision by the DC Circuit Court — the second-highest federal court in the nation — in the Comcast v. FCC decision, which was handed down only last month. The court made it clear that if the FCC wants to regulate the Internet, it must first get congressional authority. In other words, no can do.

Genachowski has interpreted that remarkable judicial smack down quite differently, thinking he can do what he wants as long as he sets "meaningful boundaries to guard against regulatory overreach." Now that's chuztpah. The court did not say, "go ahead and regulate, but do so wisely and with kindness." It said "you can't regulate here," at least not without getting the OK of Congress first.

More on this remarkable development when the official policy announcement is made Thursday.

Jim Lakely (jlakely@heartland.org) is co-director of the Center on the Digital Economy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of InfoTech & Telecom News.

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Jim Lakely is the director of communications and the primary media contact at The Heartland Institute.
jlakely@heartland.org @jlakely