Net Neutrality Debate Divided On Familiar Political Lines

The debate over net neutrality has taken center stage after the FCC called off its attempts to negotiate a compromise with key industry players, and after Google and Verizon issued a joint "net neutrality" proposal of their own. The issue has devolved into a political knife fight with the two sides divided sharply along predictable ideological lines.

As Google defends its flip-flopped betrayal of the principles of net neutrality, and AT&T jumps on board endorsing the industry-sided Google-Verizon proposal, four Democratic members of Congress have jumped into the fray to assert their opposition to the plan. Edward Markey, Anna Eshoo, Mike Doyle, and Jay Inslee wrote a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, declaring that "formal FCC action is needed."

The letter to Genachowski states that "The deployment of broadband service is a national imperative--as important to our nation's economic success, growth, and competitiveness as the postal roads, canals, rail lines, and interstate highways of the past."

The representative sum up the letter by urging that the FCC efforts should "focus on adherence to the public interest, discourage attempts to strangle the free-flow of lawful content, applications and services for American consumers and provide certainty both for entrepreneurs and Internet users."

Like so many other issues facing the United States, the battle over net neutrality boils down to polar opposite philosophies with little room for compromise. The corporate interests--supported by the Republican Party--want us to keep the government out of their affairs and trust in free market capitalism. Consumers, content providers, and smaller business interests--supported by the Democratic Party--want to ensure that government oversight is there to provide checks and balances against corporate greed and ensure equitable access to the Internet for all.

The net neutrality battle shouldn't even exist because the FCC charter already grants it the authority to regulate "interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable." Nobody challenged the authority of the FCC when it arbitrarily chose to designate Internet providers as an "information service" governed under Title I of the Communications Act, but--when the FCC suggested reversing that decision--suddenly it needs explicit permission and legal authority to execute its responsibilities.

Ultimately, what is even more important than the details of the net neutrality framework that eventually gets implemented is FCC authority to monitor and regulate the industry. If the Utopian view of net neutrality can't be achieved, and broadband providers--whether wired or wireless--are permitted to "manage" the network traffic to fit their needs, the FCC needs to have the authority to police those actions.

The broadband providers should not have any part in defining the framework that will govern them. The corporate goals to maximize profits and minimize opposition are a conflict of interest for developing a framework that protects Internet access and fosters healthy competition.

Congress should step in. Congress should either grant its explicit public endorsement of FCC authority and autonomy to make decisions affecting the industries it is charged with regulating, or Congress should take the fight out of the hands of the FCC and the broadband industry opposition and draft its own set of rules to govern Internet service.

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