FCC will try again for net neutrality

fcc commissionersThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has indicated that it will re-start its effort to establish a “net neutrality” law that would regulate how the Internet’s broadband pipes are owned and managed. At stake is the right of major Internet service providers to charge for fast content delivery to consumers. An often-cited example is a cable company charging Netflix for high-speed connection to its movie streaming to homes. In the music realm, a theoretical scenario might be Apple paying to advantageous delivery of iTunes Radio streams, providing better streaming than competitors.

In all content categories, net-neutrality advocates say that fair competition requires an open delivery platform that cannot be slanted toward a provider with deep pockets. Opponents of net neutrality oppose regulation of a free market. Cable companies and other major bandwidth providers have spent fortunes building broadband infrastructure, and think they should have the right to give, sell, or lease bandwidth at their discretion.

If you don’t succeed…

This will be FCC’s third try. In January, the agency lost a court decision, largely on a technicality. That case as  built by ex-Commissioner Julius Genachowski, who mistakenly classified the Internet in a way that forbade the net neutrality regulation sought by the FCC. the court decision spelled out the error plainly enough, and practically invited the FCC to try again. Picking up that cue, the federal agency (now led by commissioner Tom Wheeler, has decided not to appeal the decision, but to reboot the effort.

Expectations were that the FCC would re-classify the Internet as a common carrier, like phones, which would place its previous arguments on a more legal footing. Instead, Wheeler is building a case on a portion of the Communications Act, avoiding hard line and allowing for some degree of case-by-case resolution.

One interesting aspect of the proposed argument, as reported by the New York Times, would be an attempt by the FCC to remove some state laws that prevent cities from offering broadband service to their residents.

Brad Hill