The Federal Communication Commission voted 3 to 2 on Thursday in favor of a move to give it authority on how the Internet will be controlled. The vote by the agency, which is in charge of regulating the nation’s communications services, begins a process in which the public can comment on the F.C.C.’s proposal to overturn a ruling made under the Bush-era F.C.C. that classified broadband as an “information service.” Julius Genachowski, the head of the F.C.C., put forth three different possibilities for future regulation of broadband: It can stay as it is, which is entirely unregulated; it can be regulated under the same rules as telecommunications (the strictest regulatory option); or it can be regulated under the “third way”—where it is branded as telecommunications but given its own set of lighter regulations.
All appears to be riding on the definitions.
Defining broadband as a telecommunications service will give the F.C.C. greater power to regulate it, much like it regulates telecommunication services. However, the agency has made clear that it will not regulate Internet content, and will not impose such strict regulations telephone services. Keeping broadband defined as an “information service” will give Internet Service Providers, such as Comcast, AOL, and NetZero, free reign—preserving an entirely unregulated industry.
The move is contentious, and pitched battle cries have been ringing out from net neutrality groups, public interest groups and industry giants like Google, who are in favor of the rebranding. Battle cries equally as fierce have been ringing out from the ISP’s and free market advocates, who are disinclined toward the regulation.
The battle, like most are, seems to be a case of my idea of freedom is more free than yours.
According to an article in the Times, the F.C.C. began reconsidering its approach to broadband regulation after a court ruled that the F.C.C. could not block ISP’s from discriminating against any content or application. “The F.C.C. claimed that Comcast had done so by blocking access by its users to BitTorrent, a file-sharing service.
Net neutrality advocates argue that ISP’s, in doing so obstruct the free-flow of services and information; therefore, marginalize the consumers by favoring only their own services. Conversely, the ISP’s argue that government oversight will stifle the outstanding growth that has characterized the Internet boom over the past four years.
According to Wired Magazine, ISP’s are hoping to generate new revenue streams by charging online services extra money “to get in the fast lane” and by offering video services that compete with sites like Hulu and Youtube.