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Friday, December 3, 2010

The FCC schedules meeting to assert it's pretend power over the Internet

While the FCC has no actual regulatory power over the Internet, that is not stopping them from scheduling a meeting to give themselves regulatory power over the Internet. It was recently announced by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, the December 21st meeting of the FCC will include a vote on Net Neutrality. Even though the FCC was told by the courts they do not have the power to regulate the Internet and the FCC themselves said in 2002 they had no power to regulate the Internet, it looks like business killing regulation is exactly what they are hell-bent on implementing.

Chairman Genachowski has ditched plans to reclassify the Internet under Title II, the same regulations that apply to telephony, but will pursue plans to control how companies manage their networks and users experiences. The FCC is making this power grab under the directive issued by Congress to "report to Congress each year whether broadband service is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely manner, and if not, to take steps to make it so." Using this so-called Section 706 authority is certainly a stretch to say the least. According the the New York Times, an official with the FCC says it goes something like this:
In July, after the commission issued its National Broadband Plan, it cited that report’s finding that roughly 14 million Americans do not have broadband Internet service as evidence that broadband is not being adequately deployed.

Therefore, the official said, it is within the F.C.C.’s power to take steps that will promote the spread of broadband. Putting so-called net neutrality rules in place would help ensure that content providers can reach Internet users, which will increase the output of Internet companies, thereby increasing demand for Internet services and increasing deployment of broadband service.
Unfortunately for Mr. Genachowski there is not now, nor has there ever been, a lack of demand for Internet Services or the deployment of additional backbone. The Internet has thrived all these years without stifling regulation from the FCC and there is no indication this demand is slowing. In the FCC case Comcast vs. BitTorrent, which is when a lot of this Net Neutrality talk was revived, the issue was never a lack of demand. Of course none of the proposed regulations would do much to increase demand either. Requiring companies to justify how and why they manage their networks the way they do and requiring them to meet government imposed content management standards doesn't do anything to inspire further investment or deployment. Providers need little incentive to make more money and get more customers beyond the lure of the almighty dollar. The Internet has reached the greatness that it is currently without government dillying. To imply these far reaching, questionable regulations will increase demand, and then deployment, is laughable.

The truth is anytime content has been censored or users experiences have been degraded unfairly, providers have been tried and punished under existing law. When the offense hasn't required legal intervention, they have been ripped to shreds in the court of public opinion. Pretending we need the FCC to give us freedom of speech and open access to information is disingenuous.

Letting providers manage their networks, within existing law, to provide a good user experience for all is good business. Allowing start-ups to benefit from the doors opened to them by revenue generated at ISP's from bandwidth behemoths like Google is good business. If you want to drive further investment by providers and additional deployment of backbone, you don't do it by squeezing business and calling it "fairness".

To proclaim that the only way to preserve the "free and open Internet" is to let the government manipulate content and regulate providers to death is preposterous and wrong. This is the logic of the folks who made announcement at midnight, that they would take a vote on an issue that isn't theirs the vote on, during a lameduck legislative session, on a document that is closed to public comment. Irony anyone?