FCC and Network Neutrality - A Quick Take

A quick reaction to the court decision that the FCC cannot currently prevent Comcast from telling subscribers where they can and cannot go on the Internet: This is what happens when private companies own infrastructure.

Comcast owns the pipes so it makes the rules. The FCC, authorized to regulate "all interstate and foreign communication by wire or radio" by Congress, most assuredly is supposed to have the authority to ensure Internet Service Providers cannot arbitrarily block some websites to subscribers. Whether it really has the power or not is determined by courts - and the courts are massively swayed by the arguments of Comcast, related trade associations, and powerful organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce. So long as Comcast and other massive corporations own the infrastructure, they will make the rules. We can attempt to fiddle at the edges by responding via the FCC, or we can build public infrastructure (over which they can provide services without making the rules) and avoid this entire problem.

On this particular issue, though, I found the following bits helpful in understanding the decision and how it changes federal policy.

Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post posted a video interview with Ben Scott of Free Press that is well worth watching to understand what is at stake and what is not. For instance, the FCC is not proposing to regulate the Internet so much as the wires and transmissions that allow the Internet to run. As long as Comcast can decide what bits it wants to transport (as in, it will transport bits from CNN but not Fox News, for instance), the open Internet is at risk. Ben Scott also appeared on the excellent Diane Rehm show that asked Who Controls the Internet?

If you really want to get into the nuts and bolts of what the Court said, you never go wrong by starting with an analysis by Harold Feld, who notes (with more authority than I when yelling back at my radio at misinformed tech reporters) that lots of folks are talking about this decision (including a certain FCC Commissioner) without understanding what the ruling actually said.

The FCC does not require an additional grant of power from Congress to enforce network neutrality, as noted by Public Knowledge:

The real tragedy of today’s ruling is that this entire issue is a self-inflicted wound by the FCC. When it decided not to regulate broadband Internet under Title II (by placing cable broadband into Title I and moving DSL broadband from Title II to Title I), it turned its back on a specific delegation of powers from Congress. There would be no debate about ancillary authority if the FCC were to recognize that broadband Internet is a Title II “telecommunications” service. The FCC has the statutory power it needs if it chooses to use it.

Photo used under Creative Commons license from AdamWillis.