FCC Chair Mulling Commission's Authority Over Internet Access Providers

BY Ed Black
May 4, 2010
Internet users and the tech industry are responding to news reports that the Obama administration may be weakening in its resolve to protect the neutrality of Internet access for households and small businesses. News reports indicate FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski may decide not to treat broadband as telecom services, which are clearly subject to FCC jurisdiction.
Some say the FCC needs to take action to clarify their jurisdiction after a recent appeals court ruling that overturned the way the FCC tried to enforce net neutrality rules. Because the Comcast case invalidated the Bush administration’s theory of FCC authority over Internet Access Providers, the Commission must rely on authority found in the telecommunications act to preserve open Internet access for all Americans.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association filed comments with the FCC last week in response to the Commission’s request for comments on its net neutrality rules. CCIA pointed out the FCC does and should have authority to make rules on broadband access for households, students and small businesses under its Title II telecommunications authority.
The court ruling showed the failure of the previous Commission to maintain enforceable, basic rights to nondiscriminatory Internet access. But in the same breath the court didn’t disapprove of what the FCC was trying to do — preserve nondiscriminatory Internet access.
As senator Obama promised several pro consumer and pro technology positions during his campaign. Failure to invoke fundamental jurisdiction to implement those promises would be a serious retreat from what was thought to be his core commitment to positive change and economic growth through technology empowerment. Real change does not mean further entrenching dominant power.
Internet users need nondiscriminatory access to websites and the FCC is tasked with being the public interest watchdog, looking out for household and small business broadband Internet connection rights. We hope Obama administration officials are able to withstand the overly intense corporate political pressure and uphold their duty to protect the public interest in the open Internet.
U.S. diplomats are fighting overseas to ensure citizens in countries like China and Iran have open Internet access. They know all too well the cost of information suppression and we would do well to fight that battle on the homefront too so that no government and no commercial access provider controls access to information on the Internet. Given the recent court ruling that has put a big hole in the previous FCC’s ‘safety net’ that needs to be fixed immediately and cannot await a multi-year legislative process in Congress.

by Ed Black, President & CEO, CCIA

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