Appearing before a Senate committee on what was supposed to be a hearing to discuss the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski wound up spending much of his time fending off questions about how the FCC will cope with a recent appeals court ruling that found the FCC does not have the authority to enforce its net neutrality policies, as embodies in its 2005 Internet Policy Statement. Genachowski emphasized that the FCC legal team is moving forward to define a “solid legal basis” from which the FCC will regulate the Internet, and that he is confident the agency has all the authority it.
The recent ruling overturned the FCC’s sanctioning of Comcast, which had been forging reset packets on its network to shut down selected peer-to-peer file sharing applications, ostensibly under the mantra of “network management.” The FCC’s openness principles had set out that Internet users have the right to use any lawful device and application on any network without encumbrance by network providers; the court’s decision found that Congress had not granted the FCC authority to regulate how ISPs managed their networks.
Big network operators and telecommunications companies see the ruling as a potential boon, because it means they could alter their services to allow or disallow applications as they see fit; they could also begin charging customers, content providers, and large Internet companies like Google and Amazon for “preferred” access to their networks. Deregulation would end the “free lunch” telco’s feel Internet companies have been getting by leveraging the telco’s physical infrastructures.
Consumer advocates have warned that without net neutrality regulations, the Internet would quickly balkanize into different strata of access, where access to content, services, applications, and data are dependent on providers’ whims.
Genachowski said the Comcast ruling may impact some aspects of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, such the agency’s proposal to using the Universal Service Fund to support Internet service.
Some consumer advocacy groups—as well as one Democratic FCC commissioner—have called on the FCC to reclassify broadband Internet access as a so-called Title II telecommunications service rather than an information service; such a reclassification would let the FCC regulate broadband Internet access in the same way it regulates phone service.