The Broadband Providers Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks

The broadband industry and some politicians have reacted strongly to an FCC effort to have an open dialogue. In response to a Thursday vote by the FCC to open a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) period to consider the options for reclassifying how broadband service is governed, some broadband providers have responded with undue hyperbole that leads one to question their motives.

The FCC has been tasked by Congress to develop and implement a National Broadband Plan, but the industry is challenging its authority to do so.
A statement from Verizon following the FCC vote says "Reclassifying high-speed broadband Internet service as a telecom service is a terrible idea. The negative consequences for online users and the Internet ecosystem would be severe and have ramifications for decades. It is difficult to understand why the FCC continues to consider this option."

Why? Why is it difficult to understand why a government organization tasked by Congress with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable might want to adapt with changes in technology and communications and seek to clearly define the scope of its authority to carry out that mission?

AT&T senior vice president for external and legislative affairs Jim Cicconi commented on the FCC NOI to say "It will create investment uncertainty at a time when certainty is most needed. It will no doubt damage jobs in a period of far-too-high unemployment. It will also undermine the FCC's own goals for the National Broadband Plan."

Really? No, seriously. Because, if that is true, we need to know about it. We need the facts to be a part of this open dialog so we can consider the full ramifications of altering the scope of FCC authority over broadband service providers. So, if you can actually back that alarmist statement up, please contribute those facts to the process.

In a statement issued from the FCC following Thursday's vote, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski notes, "It's not hard to understand why companies subject to an agency's oversight would prefer no oversight at all if they had the chance.

That is true. However, the United States has been experiencing the painful effects of reduced or failed oversight--the collapse of Wall Street, the ongoing BP oil spill fiasco--so you'll have to forgive us for not trusting the altruistic intentions of corporate America.

What is the broadband industry afraid of? It's a public debate, not an FCC directive. The point of the NOI is to provide an opportunity for all parties to weigh in. Instead of whining and complaining about the audacity of the FCC for moving the discussion forward, Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, or any other interested party, should participate in the democratic process to determine the best solution.

If reclassifying broadband service under the FCC "third way" proposal will impede investment and innovation, bring the proof to the table. If it will cost jobs and impact the economy, back that up with some facts. Industry players should stop trying to prevent or circumvent the dialog with public hyperbole and instead participate in the process.

The Internet has evolved to become an essential element of the nation's critical infrastructure. It is crucial to commerce, public safety, and national defense. That doesn't mean the government needs to take it over, but the government does need to have some oversight of the Internet backbone just as it does with power, transportation, and other services the country relies on.

The bottom line is this: The FCC has a mission to fulfill and the court decision earlier this year in Comcast v. FCC challenges whether the FCC has the legal authority to effectively carry that mission out as it relates to broadband Internet. The FCC action on Thursday simply initiated a public discussion to review the pros and cons of various alternatives, and determine the best course of action.

Businesses and commerce rely on the Internet. The FCC Notice of Inquiry offers an opportunity for all to participate in an open dialog and democratic process to determine what is best for the country as a whole. If you sit idly on the sidelines, you get what you get. Take advantage of the chance to make your voice heard and let the FCC know how reclassifying broadband oversight, or not, might impact your business.

You can follow Tony on his Facebook page , or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com . He also tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW .

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