January 10 2011
After 5 years of ongoing debate, a congressional rejection of a net neutrality amendment, and a recent court case determining that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had no authority to oversee broadband, the FCC successfully voted that the agency ought to regulate broadband traffic and Internet network management. Case closed.
Wait, what was that again? The FCC can just claim by itself the right to regulate broadband? Congress, hello?
This debate is far from over. Just this week, Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced legislation which would establish that the FCC has no authority over broadband. 60 congress members already support her move.
This is good news, because in addition to acting in defiance of Congress and the courts, the FCC's move to regulate broadband is opposed by a majority of voters. A Rasmussen poll conducted on Dec. 23, 2010, showed that about 54 percent of likely voters oppose the FCC efforts to regulate the Web, and 56 percent, including most Republicans and unaffiliated voters, believe the FCC would use its regulatory authority to promote a political agenda.
If this isn't enough motivation for Congress to rein in the FCC's attempt at regulatory overreach, it is important to understand that this version of net neutrality regulation is only the beginning of a likely litany of Internet regulation. This is what FCC chief of staff Ed Lazarus had to say:
We addressed the problems we saw. We'll stop there for now. If other things come up that pose anticompetitive or consumer problems, then we'll revisit.
However, the FCC's net neutrality rules aren't a solution to existing "anticompetitive or consumer problems." The FCC voted to impose net neutrality rules preemptively, without evidence for systemic problems of blocking or discrimination.
In fact, because the rules outlaw charging application providers (e.g. Netflix, BitTorrent) to deliver their services, and openly discourage Internet providers from offering priority pricing for those who would like to pay for a special fast-lane on the Internet highway, costs to increase broadband capacity will have to be borne by consumers. Net neutrality rules, far from solving a consumer problem, created one by raising the costs for Internet access in the long-term.
Net neutrality is just the beginning of further government involvement in the Internet sector. Other concerns the Obama administration and regulatory agencies such as the FCC and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) seek to address are privacy concerns. Proposals include privacy regulations, do-not-track features, and most recently the adoption of an Internet ID.
In the absence of Congress or the courts acting to rein in this power grab over the Internet, expect to read about many other initiatives to regulate the Internet. Net neutrality is just the beginning.