The business of broadband

Posted: Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The following editorial appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Friday:

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski's proposal Thursday to give his agency rulemaking power over broadband Internet access services sent some telecommunications industry allies - and even some FCC members - into apoplexy. The move would kill innovation! It would stifle investment!

The critics' bromides notwithstanding, Genachowski's approach is hardly a frontal assault on the Net. It's a reasonable attempt to apply narrow rules to a part of the Internet where there's insufficient competition: broadband access services. The rules wouldn't apply to online content or applications, a vibrant market that's the source of most of the Net's innovation.

The proposal would reverse the FCC's decisions in 2002 and 2005 to categorize broadband access as an "information service" subject to few federal rules. Instead, the commission would reclassify it as a "telecommunications service" subject to extensive oversight. At the same time, however, Genachowski would have the FCC exempt broadband providers from most of the rules that apply to communications services, such as the requirement to share networks with rivals. Phone and cable companies had argued that such mandates would deter investment in faster and more ubiquitous broadband services; Genachowski's proposed forbearance is a definitive response to those concerns.

But just as the FCC's earlier decisions pounded a square peg into a round hole, so does Genachowski's proposal. The chairman argues persuasively that his approach would merely restore the authority the FCC thought it had to prevent abusive behavior by broadband providers and promote the spread of high-speed Internet services. That authority was all but obliterated by a recent appeals court ruling. Yet it would be better for Congress to give the commission explicit, limited oversight over broadband than to have the commission try to adapt rules created for 20th century phone networks. Genachowski has pointed the way; now lawmakers need to get moving.

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