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FCC Taking Middle Road on Net Neutrality

In an announcement made on Thursday morning, Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski outlined his plan for the future of broadband access to the internet. An announcement that, although it reflects a compromise for both net neutrality lobbyists and internet providers, likely won’t make the telcos and ISPs very happy.

According to the Washington Post:

“I directed the FCC general counsel and staff to identify an approach that would restore the status quo—that would allow the agency to move forward with broadband initiatives that empower consumers and enhance economic growth, while also avoiding regulatory overreach,” Genachowski said in a statement.
“In short, I sought an approach consistent with the longstanding consensus regarding the limited but essential role that government should play with respect to broadband communications.”

Translated: Genachowski is proposing a light touch on the subject of net neutrality, though a marked shift from the more hands-off approach the Commission has up to now taken. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that this will regulate broadband lines under traditional phone rules (per Title II of the Communications Act) while also providing boundaries against regulatory overreach, reflecting the status quo under Title I. Title I defines ISPs as “information services” and has held sway since the Clinton administration, while Title II defines phone companies as common carriers. This would require internet providers like Verizon to treat all traffic equally, although it remains to be seen what provisions have been allowed for.

While there was both hope and fear that this would be the “nuclear” option or wholesale access under Title II, which describes phone companies as common carriers, this was avoided. By choosing the middle ground, Genachowski hopes to preserve a free and open internet for consumers without upsetting the phone companies.

But they are upset, and analysts are expecting an intense lobbying effort and perhaps a legal battle. It all depends how much the new ruling forbears for the telcos. Cecilia Kang of the Post reports:

“We believe the FCC’s attempt to reclassify broadband will create a prolonged period of regulatory uncertainty and invite protracted litigation in a way that could complicate various high-priority policy initiatives,” said Jeffrey Silva, a senior policy director at Medley Global Advisors.

“I directed the FCC general counsel and staff to identify an approach that would restore the status quo—that would allow the agency to move forward with broadband initiatives that empower consumers and enhance economic growth, while also avoiding regulatory overreach,” Genachowski said in a statement.
“In short, I sought an approach consistent with the longstanding consensus regarding the limited but essential role that government should play with respect to broadband communications.”
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