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December 2, 2010
FCC still flogging net neutrality
After two years of pushing an Obama campaign promise, the FCC is set to vote on its latest "net neutrality" proposal at its December 21 meeting, despite numerous setbacks and strong opposition from Congressional Republicans.
The FCC drive to regulate the internet may be in lockstep with the President, but is decidedly out-of-step with the rest of the country.
A Wall Street Journal column after the election focused on 95 candidates for Congress who signed a Progressive Change Campaign pledge to support net neutrality. All 95 candidates lost.
The Journal noted, "the broader lesson may be that people fear government regulation of what has been a free and open Internet more than they fear what any other institution might do to the Web."
Earlier this year, a court ruling limiting the FCC's authority over broadband led the FCC to propose reclassifying broadband under old monopoly telephone rules. A strong reaction from Congress sent the FCC back to the drawing board.
The current proposal, according to Politico, appears to be modeled after draft legislation written last fall by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a bill that died because "Republicans refused to support it."
The new plan is viewed by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowskie as a compromise between free markets and full regulation, in that it would not reclassify broadband and it would not apply to wireless at this time.
Politico adds, however, that Genachowski "said the FCC reserves the right to take action in the mobile market in the future," and a supporter commented "this is the first step in the process..."
In other words, this modest proposal is merely the government's regulatory foot in the door.
The industry sees compromise as an alternative to harsher rules that might otherwise be imposed. However, a "senior GOP aide" referred to a House Republican letter sent to Genachowskie last month, and commented:
Now the FCC appears set to forge ahead with what some term a "solution in search of a problem," leading Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) to say "this is a hysterical reaction by the FCC to a hypothetical problem," and there is "little if any Congressional support for the action."
The senior Republican among the five FCC Commissioners, Robert McDowell, "blasted Genachowski's plan, calling it a ‘highly interventionist course... in defiance not only of the courts, but a large bipartisan majority of Congress as well.' "
The Journal questioned the FCC role in a rapidly evolving internet:
A wave of electoral rejection has only heightened the Obama administration's dogged pursuit of new ways to regulate.
It remains to be seen what a Republican House or anyone else can do about it.