Critics attack US broadband plans

5 May 2010

The BBC reports that The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is facing criticism amid suggestions that it will abandon plans to introduce tougher regulation of broadband services. Its power was recently called into question when a court ruled that it had no authority to sanction cable firm Comcast for slowing some net traffic. The decision was a blow for ‘net neutrality’ advocates, who argued that all web traffic should be equal. Advocacy groups argue the FCC needs to regulate to prevent further problems. However, the Washington Post reported that the FCC wants to keep broadband services deregulated. As it stands, the FCC has ‘ancillary’ authority under so called ‘Title 1’ rules over broadband providers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon where they are lightly regulated. In April the court ruled that two years ago the FCC had overstepped those powers when it sanctioned Comcast for slowing down certain types of traffic. One option open to the FCC is to reclassify broadband under ‘Title II’ rules from an information service to a telecom service. Industry watchers have predicted open warfare if this happens because it would allow the FCC to more closely oversee providers on issues such as charges, practices, regulations, facilities and so on for their services.

Following the court defeat, reports circulated in Washington that the FCC chairman Julius Genachowski will not reclassify broadband to allow for more regulation. The Washington Post said its sources claimed this was because it would be ‘overly burdensome on carriers and would deter investment’. There has been a growing backlash among pressure groups following these reports and many have warned of disastrous consequences for consumers. ‘If Chairman Genachowski fails to re-establish the FCC authority to protect internet users, he will be allowing companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to slow down, block or censor at will,’ said Josh Silver, executive director of communications advocacy group Free Press. ‘They can block any website, any blog post, any tweet, any outreach by a political campaign – and the FCC would be powerless to stop them. Without reclassification, nearly every broadband-related decision the agency makes from here forward will be aggressively challenged in court, and the FCC will likely lose.’

United States