FCC takes baby step towards net neutrality
Critics foresee webageddon
The US Federal Communications Commission announced on Wednesday that it would open up the topic of broadband regulation to public commentary — and from some of reactions to that mild step, you'd think that by doing so they were destroying America's economic future.
The vote to open chairman Julius Genachowski's compromise "Third Way" to public discussion was three ayes to two nays, resulting in a 64-page Notice of Inquiry to be released, which begins an "open, public process to consider the adequacy of the current legal framework within which the Commission promotes investment and innovation in, and protects consumers of, broadband Internet service."
Genachowski's "Third Way" plan restores some of the regulatory powers that were stripped from it when a federal appeals court vacated its ruling that Comcast was out of line when it choked BitTorrent traffic. The FCC chairman wants some of that authority back — in an overly simplistic nutshell, he wants the Commission to have limited authority to regulate pipes, but not what goes through them.
As might be guessed in these days of high unemployment and voter anger at slow rates of rehiring, the magic-word el numero uno among the anti-Genachowski crowd is "jobs" (lowercase "j"), followed closely behind by "investment" — which, of course, is simply a code word for "jobs".
Dissenting commissioner Robert McDowell, for example, issued an opinion that cited Credit Suisse exec Jonathan Chaplin as saying that the uncertainty engendered by public discussion would stifle investment, "which would mean jobs."
McDowell also wrote: "In fact, one recent economist's study estimates that a net 1.5 million jobs could be put at risk by a Title II classification" — Title II being the subset of the Telecommunications Act that governs telephone service, of which Genachowski wants to apply select elements to broadband.
Specifically, the study to which McDowell is referring, ""The Employment and Economic Impact of Network Neutrality Regulation: An Empirical Analysis," says in its marketing materials that if Genachowski's plan were to be put into place: "Economy-wide, 65,404 jobs could be put in jeopardy in 2011, with the total economy-wide impact growing to 1,452,943 jobs lost by 2020."
To be frank, however, it's hard to see that study as unbiased: it was sponsored by the industry group Mobile Future, whose membership includes anti-Genachowski AT&T and T-Mobile, and whose chairman Jonathan Spalter responded to the FFC's move by saying: "We are disappointed with the Commission's decision to pursue a path that could deter rather than incent broadband deployment." He also urged the FCC to work to "...stimulate ingenuity, investment and American jobs."
McDowell also cited the dissenting letter from 74 Democrats in the House of Representative that The Reg reported on few weeks back, quoting the line that reads: "The uncertainty this proposal creates will jeopardize jobs and deter needed investment for years to come."
Commissioner Meridith Baker coupled uncertainty and investment in her dissent as well. After saying that she "generally support[s] building robust public records to bolster the Commission's work," in this case she was going to make an exception, because "this is the rare case where opening a proceeding creates so much regulatory uncertainty that it harms incentives for investment in broadband infrastructure and makes providers and investors alike think twice about moving forward with network investments under this dark regulatory cloud."
A Genachowski ally, commissioner Mignon Clyburn, was having none of it. In her supportive statement, she dismissed the argument that Baker's "dark regulatory cloud" was scaring off investors. "Notable telecommunications analysts at firms such as Bank of America Merrill Lynch, UBS, and Goldman Sachs," she wrote, "have each asserted that the public reaction by industry to the Chairman’s proposal is overblown. In fact, they believe the current landscape presents a tremendous buying opportunity."
She also cited that very "public reaction by industry" as part of the problem. "If you yell 'The sky is falling!' enough times, people will eventually take cover," she wrote.
"But I can understand why powerful companies balk at government oversight," Clyburn continued. "They view any government authority as a threat to their unbridled freedom. Indeed, if it were up to them, we would not enact rules; but rather, rely on 'voluntary organizations and forums' made up solely of industry personnel to give us advice on how to serve as a backstop for consumers."
Not that such an outcome would be thoroughly disturbing to Clyburn. "I suppose one benefit of this [anti-regulatory] model," she wrote, "is that I could significantly shorten my workday." ®
"Economy-wide, 65,404 jobs could be put in jeopardy in 2011, with the total economy-wide impact growing to 1,452,943 jobs lost by 2020."
Bearing in mind that this is a /marginal/ figure, not the absolute size of the industry, that's a truly massive estimate of how much they are expecting to be able to screw their customers for. Looks to me like this industry needs to sack its entire long-term planning department. The current lot are clearly total idiots, hell-bent on turning the ISP industry into the next music business.
Earth calling comms providers. You're business is transmitting data. Various mathematical and constitutional constraints mean that you will never be able to make a business out of snooping on those bits, so your only viable business model is to charge whatever it costs to move the bits.
not sure what to think
As an IT guy when I hear net neutrality I see it as networks linking together with one another without taking into consideration their commercial interest in the connections.
However I guess government has taken it upon themselves to change that to, "we control your information".
We have to revisit how we got to this point of the FCC continuing to do things like this.
First you have the stimulus for broadband. We all know what that was but we also know that when government gives you money for something they expect something in return even if what they gave you was complete crap.
Second you have large isps with lobbying power that as comcast has said "don't care" and that's right they don't have to care.
The real problem I have is un-regulated industry has proven time and time again to simply screw you. Where I live and im sure it's the same for alot of folks we have one electric company. The electric company was regulated by our local government but that's all changing and the government is being forced out of it.
Now that government is being forced out of it you would think things would be better no? Well no, for at least a year now the utility company has been airing commercials saying "rates are going to go up - go green". They've spent all this money telling us that the rates are going to go up and to to use less energy.
How free market is that? Your in the business of selling electricity and your telling people to use less. I guess that works just fine when your going to raise the rates to make up for it anyhow and now the government will have no control over what they charge.
I think if the FCC tried giving us a venezuelan style internet the good guys would just have to bring it all down. We know the US has been implementing cyberwarfare guys probably specifically for this but if the government was a shining example of being able to handle things we wouldn't be on this road to ruin to begin with.
If you have some time go back and read some old ICANN related discussions as to what an equitable domain name is and who can have them. It seems the internet has been somewhat controlled even before this topic hit the wire. "Non-profits" have been out there deciding what's equitable, like these non-profits know anything other then what the corporates who fund them tell them.
RE: .....regurgitating what's been fed to them by lobbying experts?
If there is a `R` after their name, the probability is extremely high.