Comcast is Winning the Broadband Battle

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

Why All the Hype Over Net Neutrality?

Learn what net neutrality is all about and why it's so important.

In the current political environment, in which an emboldened Republican Party has taken back the House of Representatives, the news that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on net neutrality in three weeks is not necessarily good news for its advocates.


But vote they will. In prepared remarks, Chairman Julius Genachowski said that the FCC is proposing a five-point plan that includes:

meaningful transparency; a ban on blocking lawful apps and services; a ban on unreasonable network management; an allowance for a certain amount of ISP network management; and rules governing wireless that calls for transparency and a basic no-blocking rule.

The story points out, however, that the very right of the FCC to control the Internet is uncertain. In April, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that the commission couldn't enforce network management structures it had imposed on Comcast in 2008. Subsequently, the FCC tried to find an end run around the decision, including reclassifying broadband in a manner that makes its control unquestioned. That isn't going to happen:

In the end, however, Genachowski said Wednesday that the commission will not pursue the option of reclassifying broadband as a telecom service, known in DC lingo as 'Title II' because of its placement in the Communications Act. Instead, the FCC lawyers have been working overtime to pore over the various laws related to FCC authority to come up with a framework that Genachowski said has a 'sound legal basis.'

It is obvious that the FCC's power-no matter how much overtime poring its lawyers do-will be severely limited. This is essentially a business and political, not legal, issue. And the political and business stars are lined up against expanded regulation. If the general atmosphere holds, it is not reasonable to expect that anything but the most marginal oversight will be instituted over wireline and, especially, wireless broadband.


Ali had Frazier, the Yankees have the Red Sox and the FCC has Comcast. Not only did Comcast's-the largest cable operator-actions lead to the adverse court finding, but the cable company, which is in the process of acquiring NBC Universal, seems to know it has the upper hand. The New York Times reported on Nov. 21 that the commission is annoyed at Comcast's announcement of management appointments despite the fact that the deal has not be approved. The Times quoted an official in the administration:

For a deal this large, and one that hasn't been approved, Comcast's behavior is presumptuous and arrogant.

Finally, Comcast-whose lawyers may be better than its engineers-certainly must be getting the regulators' attention in relation to a dust-up it is having with Level 3. The service provider recently signed a deal to host and deliver videos from Netflix to cable operators, and is accusing Comcast of charging it a premium for delivery. Comcast, of course, has a different take on the issue. The bottom line is that the situation treads very closely to the net neutrality issues the FCC will vote on Dec. 21.


What is clear is that the brief period of tighter regulatory oversight ushered in by the election of President Obama went on hold on Nov. 2. In time, it could come back-but not quickly enough to stop the establishment of rules giving Comcast and other big media companies more control than they previously had on the nation's broadband networks.

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