Tuesday, May 11, 2010

High drama at the FCC, as last week the FCC sharply reverses course on supposed neutrality rules:
In a move that will stoke a battle over the future of the Internet, the federal government plans to propose regulating broadband lines under decades-old rules designed for traditional phone networks...

At stake is how far the FCC can go to dictate the way Internet providers manage traffic on their multibillion-dollar networks. For the past decade or so, the FCC has maintained a mostly hands-off approach to Internet regulation.

Internet giants like Google Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and eBay Inc., which want to offer more Web video and other high-bandwidth services, have called for stronger action by the FCC to assure free access to websites.

But, a significant part of the problem is not what the regulations are, but how the FCC will regulate:
"[FCC Comissioner Genochowski] will propose that the FCC evaluate alleged violations of the non-discrimination principle as they arise, on a case-by-case basis." In theory, this gives the FCC more flexibility, allowing the agency to be smarter and more generous when weeding out violators. But in practice, it's likely to expand the bureaucracy's reach as it refuses to define the boundaries of its authority.

Clearly defined regulations are probably unnecessary, but at least they would provide innovators a sense of stability. But Genachowski's case-specific approach to judging violations—essentially we'll know it when we see it—doesn't even give them that. Now, whenever a telecom company wants to implement a new service or product that works by manipulating traffic flow on the Web, it will have to worry about whether or not its innovation might set off Genochowski's sense of... well, whatever it is that he and the rest of the regulators at the FCC don't like.
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