Against immense pressure from left-wing groups, yesterday the FCC announced that instead of adopting onerous Internet regulations, more study is needed. This is a breath of fresh air, but it certainly doesn’t spell the end of the FCC’s needless foray into regulating the Internet and the flourishing industry that has built it.
In its public notice, the FCC asked how or whether mobile broadband should regulated, as opposed to wired Internet connections. It also asked how to treat “specialized” services offered by service providers that run over the same broadband connection, such as teleconferencing, health IT, and gaming. The questions stem from a consensus proposal on Net Neutrality by Google and Verizon, which had exemptions for wireless and specialized services.
Yet, the questions carried the hostile and hypothetical tone that exemplifies the regulation-hungry government agency. They suggested service providers will use the “specialized service” designation to “supplant” the Internet. Despite prior assurances that their regulatory scheme would not focus on pricing, the FCC questioned the value of usage-based mobile data pricing as a means of preventing congestion and allocating bandwidth. They asked if regulations were necessary to prevent wireless carriers from blocking data-heavy applications or certain devices (that could frankly crash or congest mobile networks). The tone stems directly from the Commission’s obvious desire to make the Internet a one-size-fits-all public utility, killing the currently dynamic and innovative free-market where consumers decide which services, pricing plans, and content is the best and worst.
Immediately, the far left was up in arms. Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge said the questions “were extensively explored in not one, but two proceedings.” Media Access Project’s Matt Wood remarked, “The commission asks the same questions time and time again… instead of providing basic answers.” Free Press’s S. Derek Turner declared, “We don’t need more questions from the FCC, we need more answers.” Is this an admission that they didn’t supply correct answers during prior proceedings? Or are they just concerned that the Commission may deviate from an authoritarian approach that regulates the Internet from the top down under an arcane 1930’s law? Regardless, for a bunch of “consumer interest” groups, they obviously don’t think consumers should have anymore say in a public proceeding about how the Internet is (or isn’t) regulated.
The FCC’s move is a welcome sign that they may adopt a more consensus-based approach, as opposed to their originally proposed Title II regulations. But it also raises a few red flags. Given the wording of the notice, no one necessarily expects the FCC to adopt a proposal with limited regulations. The FCC also appears to be punting the issue until after the election, when all the other horrid and unpopular ideas are passed in Washington. This would provide some cushion should they decide to adopt the heaviest regulations possible. In the meantime, the FCC is continuing what has become a multi-year regulatory saga that has left businesses looking to invest in broadband with infuriating uncertainty as to their regulatory fate.