2015 could be a banner year for Internet regulations in the United States, and Republican leaders in Congress are working to find a legislative solution that would preserve ‘net neutrality’ without ceding more regulatory power to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). FCC regulations mandating ‘net neutrality’ were struck down last year by the courts.
The FCC issued an order in 2010 requiring all websites to be treated the same. This meant mobile and broadband carriers could not charge for faster access to certain websites. But the order was struck down last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia after a challenge from Verizon Communications, Inc., forcing legislators to find a new solution.
Senator John Thune (R-SD), who will take over as chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation this year, told Bloomberg last month he is “very interested” in finding a regulatory solution that would not subject the Internet to Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Title II would treat the Internet as a public utility, and thus subject to greater regulation.
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“The regulatory tools at the FCC’s disposal are outdated and its previous efforts to create rules to regulate the Internet were struck down by the courts,” Thune said in a statement. “It’s hard to imagine that its new attempt will escape legal challenges and avoid the kind of regulatory uncertainty that harms Internet innovation and investment.”
In November, President Obama announced his support for classifying the Internet as a public utility and said the “strongest possible rules” are necessary to keep the Internet from being divided. Erik Telford sharply criticized the President’s announcement in The Hill.
“These regulations make sense for electric, gas, and landline phone service, since there isn’t a way for utility companies to deliver services in a significantly more innovative way than competitors who use the same technology and infrastructure to deliver the same product.
“When it comes to internet access however, it’s a different ball game. Infrastructure is new and evolving at unprecedented rates. Recent innovations in fiber-optics, for example, are opening up an entirely new avenue for broadband delivery.
“Given how much the internet has revolutionized our lives in just the past ten years, it’s absurd to think that an 80-year old law will ensure the best consumers going forward.”
It is unclear what FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (D) will do. But as The Washington Post notes, “Analysts and officials close to the agency say that momentum has been building recently for far more aggressive regulations than Wheeler had initially proposed.” A vote by the five member body on how broadband networks are managed is expected at its monthly meeting February 26.
The battle over ‘net neutrality’ could also spill over to the debate on the allocation of spectrum. While both parties are in favor of more allocation of spectrum, Republicans want to sell the airwaves to the private sector – wireless carriers – and Democrats are pushing for spectrum sharing.
Another issue on the horizon is how to handle America’s relationship with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization that manages the Internet domain name system. ICANN is currently overseen by the U.S. Commerce Department, but the Obama administration announced plans to sever that relationship later this year.
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Josh Gelernter slammed the proposal in a piece for National Review:
“American governance of the Internet has been incredibly benevolent and altogether hands-off. Which other countries would you trust not to interfere with the free exchange of ideas? Dictatorships in the Far East? Dictatorships in the Middle East? Banana republics? Eastern Europe’s oligarchies?”
Image Credit: Thune.senate.gov