At the end of day, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski upheld President Obama’s campaign promise to open up the Internet to all and pursue net neutrality. But for a few anxious days last week, news reports caused fear he was backing down. Several people view Genachowski’s final decision as a major loss for the nation’s biggest Internet carriers.
Executives from five major Internet carriers said they are concerned that new regulations will cause broadband providers to slow investments in network expansion and upgrades. Comcast, who filed the lawsuit that started it all, said it was disappointed by the move to regulate broadband.
However, Comcast said it is prepared to work with the commission to determine if there is a compromise that would “take limited but effective measures to preserve an open Internet and implement critical features of the National Broadband Plan, but does not cast the kind of regulatory cloud that would chill investment and innovation by ISPs,” said Sena Fitzmaurice, vice president of government communications for Comcast.
A midweek letter from the two top Democrats in the House and Senate FCC oversight committees certainly helped shift the highly pressured chairman. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-WV; and Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-CA; provided political support for Genachowski to shift Internet lines to a more regulatory framework.
The lawmakers said they could support defining broadband as a telecommunications service if the FCC stripped Internet access providers of some of the rules that apply to phone companies. That, and unanimous support of his two Democratic colleagues, finally gave Genachowski the boost that he needed to make the announcement on Thursday.
The two Republicans on the FCC said the commission was crossing a “regulatory Rublicon” by classifying Internet access as traditional phone service under Title II. “It is neither a light-touch approach, nor a third way,” Commissioners Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker said in a joint statement opposing the plan.
Free Press, a consumer advocacy group that had pushed for Title II reclassification, was pleased with Genachowski’s decision, although with a caveat. “The FCC is sending a clear signal that they are backing away from the cliff,” said Josh Silver, president of Free Press, referring to a Washington Post report earlier in the week that claimed Genachowski was leaning against reclassification. “It appears they are charting a path toward a sensible broadband policy framework that will protect consumers and promote universal access. This is extremely welcome news.”
Free Press’s caveat: Genachowski should be “cautious about throwing out rules that would promote competition and affordability. The chairman’s plan appears to preemptively abandon important provisions of the law that serve consumers.”
That sentiment was shared by Gigi B. Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, another consumer group.
Internet companies such as Google and Skype applauded the move because it would allow the FCC to carry out policies to expand broadband access nationwide. The companies supported the commission’s efforts to create a regulation that would force broadband service providers to treat all applications equally over high-speed Internet networks, a concept known as net neutrality.
Google, the owner of YouTube, does not want Internet service providers to have the power to charge them for access to customers or for faster download speeds.