The FCC and the Net

Most of us don’t spend much time worrying about Internet neutrality, even if we have a passing understanding of the concept. But Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission does. He has been working on FCC regulations aimed at preserving Internet neutrality for several years. On Tuesday, he persuaded the three Democrats on the FCC to vote in favor of his net-neutrality regulations, while the two Republicans on the commission voted against them.

The basic premise behind the new rules is understandable. The aim is to prohibit phone and cable companies that carry the Internet into homes and businesses from discriminating against rival providers such as those that offer online video or Internet phone calls. But there are reasons to be skeptical about the rules.

For one thing, a federal judge’s ruling last spring raises serious questions about whether the FCC has any authority to adopt regulations affecting the Internet.

Furthermore, some lawmakers in both political parties have argued that Congress, not the FCC, must establish any policy regarding Internet regulation. They may try to overturn the rules.

Some, especially Republicans, also worry that Tuesday’s adoption could be the federal foot in the door for far more intrusive federal management of the Internet. While the slippery slope argument is overused in many instances, in the absence of congressional boundaries regarding federal regulation of the Internet, the possibility that future federal bureaucrats may try to apply a heavy hand to dictate Internet content and services is real.

But perhaps the most important issue is the speed with which the Internet changes. The regulations approved Tuesday deal with an Internet in which Facebook, Skype and YouTube are important players. But none of these were important just a few years ago. The rules adopted Tuesday will be out of date as soon as the next Twitter, Google or other big Internet idea comes along.


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