Moving, Ever So Slowly, Toward Broadband Regulation

Carl Weinschenk

The tug of war over how broadband will be regulated is hitting high gear, which is surprising since it soon will be July in Washington, D.C.


The FCC, which is trying to negotiate a compromise from a positioned weakened by its loss in court to Comcast in April, had meetings this week with lobbyists from the National Cable Telecommunication Association (the cable industry's trade group), Google, Skype, AT&T and Verizon.


The meetings were not the only early summer stirrings in the regulatory drama, which is showing signs of coming to a head. Perhaps the comments by Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg were intended as a shot across the administration's bow before the meetings -- and just after the commission released a Notice of Inquiry seeking public comment on its "third way" concept of "lightly" regulating broadband providers by only recognizing the transmission element as a telecommunication service.


Even the fact that these meeting were held, and held in a closed fashion, was seen as heresy by the left. Timothy Karr, the campaign director for the Free Press and the Save the Internet Foundation, didn't pull punches at The Huffington Post:

This is what a failed democracy looks like: After years of avid public support for Net Neutrality - involving millions of people from across the political spectrum - the federal regulator quietly huddles with industry lobbyists to eliminate basic protections and serve Wall Street's bottom line.

Karr has a constituency to communicate with, of course. But he would be more likely to appeal to folks who are not already in his corner, if he cares to, by waiting to see what the results of the huddling will be and, perhaps more importantly, whether they influence the final regulations. Instead, he concludes that a nation that survived the Red Scare, a Civil War, two world wars and the Depression is "a failed democracy" because the FCC is meeting with some telecom fat cats.


Clearly, however, the administration can do a better job of playing the media. Even if it intends to follow its own path-to the extent it can after the April smackdown-holding private meetings with the enemies of its supporters is a poor public relations strategy. While there still is a tremendous amount of posturing going on, the parties slowly seem to be inching toward the end game of creating a framework under which broadband networks are regulated.

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