Feds pushing harder for internet regulation

The internet has exploded over the past 10 years or so. (statistics here) In North America 76% of residents are connected – an increase of 177% in 10 years. This is no accident as the internet is one of the last industries relatively free of boot-to-the-face government meddling regulation. It is a prime example of free market economics. Access and bandwidth have increased substantially because of competition. This obviously presents a dilemma for our dear comrade leader and the majority in the politboro and they are hard at work trying to fix it. (Story here from the WSJ)

After being slapped down by a federal court that failed to see where the FCC had any regulative authority over broadband lines, FCC Commissar Julius Genachowski is now seeking to apply existing telecommunication regulation to the internet.

WASHINGTON—In a move that will stoke a battle over the future of the Internet, the federal government plans to propose regulating broadband lines under decades-old rules designed for traditional phone networks.

The decision, by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, is likely to trigger a vigorous lobbying battle, arraying big phone and cable companies and their allies on Capitol Hill against Silicon Valley giants and consumer advocates.

Breaking a deadlock within his agency, Mr. Genachowski is expected Thursday to outline his plan for regulating broadband lines. He wants to adopt “net neutrality” rules that require Internet providers like Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc. to treat all traffic equally, and not to slow or block access to websites.

The decision has been eagerly awaited since a federal appeals court ruling last month cast doubt on the FCC’s authority over broadband lines, throwing into question Mr. Genachowski’s proposal to set new rules for how Internet traffic is managed. The court ruled the FCC had overstepped when it cited Comcast in 2008 for slowing some customers’ Internet traffic.

In a nod to such concerns, the FCC said in a statement that Mr. Genachowski wouldn’t apply the full brunt of existing phone regulations to Internet lines and that he would set “meaningful boundaries to guard against regulatory overreach.”

And what would those “meaningful boundaries” be? Didn’t the court already set those boundaries? What part of “NO” doesn’t the commissar understand?

What does government interference regulation mean for the internet?

Telecom executives say privately that limits on their ability to change pricing would make it harder to convince shareholders that the returns from spending billions of dollars on improving a network are worth the cost.

Carriers fear further regulation could handcuff their ability to cope with the growing demand put on their networks by the explosion in Internet and wireless data traffic. In particular, they worry that the FCC will require them to share their networks with rivals at government-regulated rates.

Mike McCurry, former press secretary for President Bill Clinton and co-chair of the Arts + Labs Coalition, an industry group representing technology companies, telecom companies and content providers, said the FCC needs to assert some authority to back up the general net neutrality principles it outlined in 2005.

“The question is how heavy a hand will the regulatory touch be,” he said. “We don’t know yet, so the devil is in the details. The network operators have to be able to treat some traffic on the Internet different than other traffic—most people agree that web video is different than an email to grandma. You have to discriminate in some fashion.”

UBS analyst John Hodulik said the cable companies and carriers were likely to fight this in court “for years” and could accelerate their plans to wind down investment in their broadband networks.

“Net neutrality” my ass…

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