FCC Wants Your Opinion on Proposed "Third Way" for Broadband

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The Federal Communications Commission has a fairly straightforward mission. According to its Web site, "The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable." Today the FCC is struggling to adapt to the rapidly-changing communications environment, and it is looking for public input to determine the best way to accomplish that.

Congress directed the FCC to come up with a National Broadband Plan, but the FCC has been challenged on whether it has the authority to pursue it.
At some point in the past, the FCC voluntarily deemed Internet service as an "information service" governed by Title I of the Communication Act, rather than a "telecommunications service," which falls under Title II. The logic behind that choice was based on the fact that the ISP was merely providing the connection, or pipe, that content and services were delivered through, but not the actual content or services themselves.

Things have changed. Technology has evolved, the Internet and communications industries have converged, and the regulatory framework governing the industry has to be modified accordingly to ensure that the FCC has the authority to carry out the mission it has been tasked with.

The industry did not seem to question the authority of the FCC to arbitrarily designate Internet service under Title I. But, as it seeks to undo that decision and apply some or all of the Title II rules to broadband providers, the FCC has faced tremendous corporate and political opposition claiming that it has no authority to reclassify broadband service.

FCC commissioner Michael Copps said in a statement, "Between a few big industry players who never liked the telecommunications law passed by Congress and previous Commissions only too ready to sacrifice the public interest to special interests, consumers find themselves in quite a box."

Copps goes on to say, "We are on the cusp of perhaps the greatest communications revolution since the printing press, yet we enter this new Digital Age arguably shorn of the ability to offer consumers the most basic of protections--such as insuring (sic) their security, safeguarding their privacy, providing them with the benefits of competition and making sure that dynamic new technologies are available to them and are open to the maximum extent possible--without needless gatekeeper control at the on-ramps to the information highway."

In arguing for the "third way" proposal, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski stated, "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. But a system of checks and balances in the communications sector has served our country well for many decades, fostering trillions of dollars of investment in wired and wireless communications networks, and in content, applications, and services--and creating countless jobs and consumer benefits."

The broadband providers argue that broadband reclassification will be detrimental, and that net neutrality regulations are unnecessary because the industry is already self-policed and swayed by free market conditions. Broadband customers should simply trust the abundant beneficence and altruistic intentions of the broadband providers.

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