Amid mounting pressure on the FCC, Genachowski announced that he will move toward adopting a broadband policy framework that will protect net neutrality --- the core principle that keeps the Internet open and free from discrimination by service providers -- and promote universal Internet access.
Imposing regulations designed for the telephone industry on the fast-moving broadband market makes no sense, says Steven Titch of the Reason Foundation.
The FCC's announcement is encouraging and a victory for an outraged public who swamped the FCC with phone calls and e-mails; in the past week or so, nearly 250,000 people have urged Genachowski to reclassify broadband -- quite a response for a seemingly wonky policy issue that has grabbed the attention of a public worried about losing net neutrality or failing to bridge the nation's glaring digital divide.
On Thursday, Genachowski proposed a "third-way" option that would reassert the agency's jurisdiction by restoring the "status quo" and reclassifying the "transmission of broadband."
This was quite a turnaround from just a few days ago, when The Washington Post reported that Genachowski was considering siding with phone and cable companies and against reclassification, effectively abandoning net neutrality and universal access -- the key tenets of the Obama administration's technology agenda.
Genachowski's announcement Thursday signifies that he's heard the public's outcry, as well as received the stern warning from congressional leaders who have told him to do whatever it takes to protect the Internet.
We're glad that the FCC is putting the regulatory framework back in harmony with congressional intent and reversing one of the worst deregulatory mistakes of the past decade. But our celebration is cautious.
Genachowski's "third way" appears to discard important provisions that promote competition and affordability in both the wireline and wireless markets. The FCC's own data indicates that we don't have enough competition: 96 percent of Internet users have two or fewer choices for service providers. The commission should not unnecessarily take away the tools Congress gave the FCC to promote competition and affordability in our advanced communications markets.
There really is no such thing as a "third way" in this debate -- for consumers and Internet users, there is only the right way or the wrong way. We're glad Genachowski is moving in the right direction, but he still needs to confront the looming issues of competition and affordability to ensure that America's broadband is as fast, affordable and available as it is in the world's other leading nations.
Additionally, we know this announcement will undoubtedly unleash a tidal wave of phone and cable company lobbying. Over the next few months, as we wind through a rule-making proceeding about the regulatory framework proposed this week, Genachowski -- who appeared ready to throw in the towel a few days ago -- could waver at any moment.
We're applauding the chairman for his decision Thursday, but we won't be resting until the rules are finalized, the ink is dry and the FCC has done everything it must to protect Internet users.
Megan Tady is blog editor at Free Press, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.
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