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FCC dubbed 'Ministry of Truth' over net neut rules

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Testing Obama's backbone

Fried admitted that President Obama would have to sign such a resolution for it to go into effect, but he implied – well, predicted – that Obama would back down. "{Net neutrality] was not a really not a very good issue in this Congressional cycle," he said. "There were 95 candidates that supported net neutrality, and all 95 lost."

After citing a poll by the right-leaning but generally respected Rasmussen Reports that indicated that most Americans prefer free-market competition over government regulation, Fried said: "I'm not sure that the president really wants this to be a national fight. He can veto it, but going into [the] 2012 [presidential election], I'm not sure that that's good politics."

Democrat Sherman stated that he thought Obama would stand his ground. "With the Republicans in control of the House," he said, "I think Neil's absolutely right: it's going to pass the House – the Congressional Review Act resolution will pass the House. I don't know what will happen in the Senate, but I'm pretty confident, based on what the president has said about the open internet – what the president said about the Open Internet order, specifically – that it's likely to meet a presidential veto."

About the Rasmussen poll, Sherman pointed out: "I would just caution that relying on polls for issues like net neutrality is perilous at best. This is a very complicated topic," he said. "You really can frame the question in a lot of different ways: 'Do you want Verizon to tell you what websites you can visit?', you'll get a different answer than the answers in Rasmussen."

Sherman also put in a plug for expertise. "On topics of incredibly complex technical issues like this, that's why we have expert agencies – to try to make a decision."

Sherman also implied that an effort by the Republicans to invoke the Congressional Review Act would be a waste of time. "We're going to spend a lot of time debating the issue, but it's going to end up in exactly the same place it is now, where some party that feels it's aggrieved by this is likely to challenge it in court, and we'll wait to see what happens there."

Such a court case would likely hinge on the FCC's powers – or lack of them – as did the Comcast/BitTorrent case, in which the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overrulled an FCC sanctioning of Comcast for throttling BitTorrent and other P2P connections. The court ruled that the FCC had overstepped its "statutorily mandated responsibilities."

The problem is that no one really agrees on what the FCC's powers actually are, and that legislation to better define them vis-à-vis the internet – wireline or wireless – has been blocked in Congress.

When discussing the need for congressional action on open internet regulations, Sherman cited an effort by Democratic Representative Henry Waxman to pass such a legislative framework, but said that although that effort "got really far," it "got caught up in end-of-session and election-year politics."

Sherman said that his party is more than willing to enter into negotiations to give the FCC a clearer mandate for open-internet regulations: "If the Republicans want to open this up, and talk about real ways to protect the internet, and not just gut what the FCC did," he said, "we certainly will be willing to discuss the matter. But we support the order and consider it a huge step forward."

Many voices have been raised in favor of legislation to clarify the FCC's internet-regulation mandate. In general, broadband providers and Republicans would prefer that mandate to be limited if not nonexistent, while content/service providers and Democrats would prefer strong regulation. The FCC's recent Report and Order was intended as a compromise – and, as in many compromises, neither side is all that pleased.

Congressional negotiations to clearly delineate the FCC's role in providing corporations with clear guidelines – which would please both shareholders and investors – while at the same time protecting both consumers and content providers would require sensitive, honest, and thoughtful negotiations and compromise on both sides.

That doesn't appear to be Fried's cup of tea. He's a man on a mission – to stick his finger in the eye of Big Brother and dynamite the Ministry of Truth. And with a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, he can smell the blood on that red meat.

And there will be more such fights in his Orwellian future. As he told his listeners, "We're not done yet. We're just getting started." ®

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