Think it’s going to be a cool, quiet summer? Think again! The FCC is turning up the heat early. The tentative agenda for its June 17 open meeting includes a formal Notice of Inquiry (NOI) related to the FCC’s authority over broadband services. Among the NOI’s questions: whether the current Title I (information service) classification is sufficient, what the legal and practical consequences might be if the FCC’s broadband authority went full Title II (telephone service), and the potential ramifications for the FCC’s proposed ” third way”, which would resemble Title II but would not enforce all of the components found under a Title II designation. This is the hottest debate going on in telecom today.
The battle boils down to how the future of Internet services are to be managed going forward: as a telecom service and all the oversight, taxation and regulation that comes with that designation, or as it is today, a loosely regulated information service, albeit one that is going through some growing pains. By following the “third way”, the FCC is “promising” not to pursue many of the regulations that are imposed on Title II services. Could the “third way” be a realistic compromise? Since it is unprecedented, as far as I know, it seems like going down the third path sets up for a lot of interpretation, which is usually pursued in the courts at the expense of a lot of time and money.
This is all happening as the FCC looks to push through its National Broadband Plan. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is pushing a new legal strategy that would allow the commission to implement net neutrality regulations for wireless and wired networks, this following a federal court decision won by Comcast that forced the FCC to re-think its legal basis for broadband regulation. In April, the federal appeals court sided with Internet providers and allowed them to deliver services as they see fit, in a less regulated environment. This battle is just beginning and it’s creating some strange bedfellows.
Telecom competitors like AT&T, Verizon with Comcast have joined forces with what has been shaping to be the leading disrupters, Google, Microsoft, Intel and others to form an independent technical coalition that will develop voluntary guidelines for handling network data traffic. The coalition, called the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group is trying to take a more technical appraisal of net neutrality and what it may entail. Maybe a bunch of geeks amongst these companies can come to an agreement on the future direction of the Internet if their executives cannot! I’d like to be there at those meetings as the blue-suited telecom executives meet up with sandal-wearing Silicon Valley upstarts. To be honest, I can’t imagine much compromise coming from this group either and don’t expect to see any relevant results. There are just too many self-interested parties and billions of dollars in revenue at stake for any of the constituents to compromise.