The FCC Makes Its Move on Net Neutrality

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that, according to multiple anonymous sources, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski had decided to abandon the idea of implementing Net neutrality regulations by changing the classification of broadband Internet from a Title I "information service" to a more regulation-friendly Title II "telecommunication service." Instead, the Post's sources indicated, Genachowski would likely pursue a less heavy-handed Net neutrality strategy under Title I.

It now appears that those reports were wrong—mostly: The FCC now plans to classify broadband Internet as a Title II service and use Title II regulatory authority to enforce Net neutrality. However, the switch amounts to what you might call a half a reclassification. At least for now, anyway, the agency will not subject broadband providers to the full slate of Title II regulations. From The Wall Street Journal:

The decision has been eagerly awaited since a federal appeals court ruling last month cast doubt on the FCC's authority over broadband lines, throwing into question Mr. Genachowski's proposal to set new rules for how Internet traffic is managed. The court ruled the FCC had overstepped when it cited Comcast in 2008 for slowing some customers' Internet traffic. In a nod to such concerns, the FCC said in a statement that Mr. Genachowski wouldn't apply the full brunt of existing phone regulations to Internet lines and that he would set "meaningful boundaries to guard against regulatory overreach."

The FCC is trying to portray the move—in particular, the decision to forbear many Title II requirements—as a centrist "third-way" compromise, and, in a memo from its general counsel, continues to insist that it's not actually regulating the Internet. Instead, according to the memo, "For the broadband access services that a majority of on-line consumers use to reach the Internet, the Commission refrains from regulation when possible, but will step in when necessary to protect consumers and fair competition." 

Even ignoring the considerable judgment calls enforcing "fair" competition would require, here's the problem: When FCC staffers claim they're not going to regulate the Internet, what they actually mean is that, at least with regard to Net neutrality rules, they're not going to regulate the content layer. But it's tough to say you're not regulating the Internet when you are, in fact, imposing rules on how Internet traffic can and cannot be managed by Internet service providers. 

Meanwhile, even if you buy the idea that ditching some of the regulations equals some sort of gentle compromise, there's no guarantee that future administrations and FCC officials will do the same. This FCC might forbear the most onerous regulations and rule fairly, but future agency staffers might have different ideas. So even if this FCC doesn't take advantage of all of its new powers, it's certainly setting the stage for future agency officials to overreach.

More on Net neutrality and Title I/Title II here and here.

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  • ||

    Hang on to your electrons, folks!

  • ||

    I've been stashing mine away, next to the gold and silver. Gotta have a hedge for darker times.

  • The Federal Government||

    FEED ME!

  • Seymour Krelborn||

    Does it have to be human!??!

  • ¢||

    If there were any precedent for the FCC using its regulatory authority over band allotment to impose content-level censorship, you might have a point, but—

    Oh.

  • FCC||

    Don't be spilling the beans!

  • Tman||

    I kinda wish the "net neutrality" folks would get their way just so I can watch them get all pissed off when the FTC starts to restrict content.

    Keep it up dumbasses, the law of unintended consequences will rain down on you like a locust swarm.

  • ||

    Yes, I would also enjoy the schadenfreude, except that it would be tempered by the government permanently gaining control over the internet. As much as I'd like to watch net neutrality morons squeal after they thought the government would allow them to BitTorrent to their heart's content and then blocks access to "objectionable material" or "copyrighted material".

  • ||

    ...uh, that should have finished with "I'd rather have a free internet than some extra lulz."

  • Tman||

    You're right. I would enjoy it immensely but the price isn't worth it.

  • Slippery Slopes||

  • ||

    It's just proof of how fucking stupid net neutrality supporters are. The idea that huge media providers wouldn't influence the FCC to do shit like the above is madness.

  • Slippery Slopes||

    the next stop on this train to the inevitable - lagging investment and deterioration of internet infrastructure. quickly followed by it becoming a public utility and it being even worse. then a progressive on a white horse will ride in to tell us how to invest public funds to fix america's ailing infrastructure - without a hint of irony or self-awareness.

  • Slippery Slopes||

    of course, that will be a few years down the road so i will completely forget about this and not even get the LULz i deserve.

  • ||

    What pisses me off is that people who otherwise would probably say "yeah, we don't want the government regulating the internet", but they're just so mad that Comcast blocked them from BitTorrenting the latest Caprica episode that they're willing to throw it all away.

    Morons.

  • Tman||

    It's stuff like that that makes it almost worth it, but we both know that if the government was ever handed the keys to regulating content we'd be in deep doo-doo in no time.

  • ||

    +1

  • mu||

    Given that the general demographic accepts high unemployment as a burden to bear en route to the Promised Land, there won't be any satisfaction in just desserts.

    What I want to know is why proponents of regulation don't stop to consider that ISPs have had control over content all this time, yet have done nothing in the way of suppressing content. What are the evil telecoms waiting for, The Signal?

    I'd also like to know why opponents legitimize the misnomer "net neutrality."

  • ||

    I normally tend to agree with a lot of the concepts that end up on this web site. However, I don't think a lot of the people here understand what they are trying to do with net neutrality. They just want the same protections already extended to the telephone network for Internet Service Providers (i.e. they want the common carrier status extended).

  • ||

    Edited to remove semantically null terms:

    "For the broadband access services that a majority of on-line consumers use to reach the Internet, the Commission refrains from regulation when possible, but will step in when necessary to protect consumers and fair competition."

  • Mikey||

    +100000000

  • ||

    The FCC now plans to classify broadband Internet as a Title II service and use Title II regulatory authority to enforce Net neutrality. However, the switch amounts to what you might call a half a reclassification. At least for now, anyway, the agency will not subject broadband providers to the full slate of Title II regulations. From The Wall Street Journal:

    In fairness, the proper term here would be "re-classify"

    Up until 2002 or 2003, broadband was already ruled by "common carrier" rules and fell under title II regulations. It was a 3-2 vote along party lines to change it's classification to it's current state (title I).

    Now the FCC is re-classifying it back to Title II, but is going to loosen/weaken many of the title II regulations.

    Personally, I believe this is a good thing.

  • ||

    Uh huh. Wait until a "conservative" is in power and appoints a prude to run the FCC. Say hello to uber censorship, and broadcast TV will see their playing field leveled.

    Fuck.

  • ||

    But the right people are in charge, sage, you silly person.

  • ||

    Personally, I believe this is a good thing.

    And thus, the explanation of how our rights have become so thoroughly fucked over the years is laid bare in the brevity of 8 words.

  • ||

    Oh, you won't need to wait for a conservative boogeyman to do that. The friendly non-conservatives who brought us speech codes, the fairness doctrine, and other "sensible limits" on freedom of expression are already there. And they know what's best for us.

  • ||

    The feminists will be hell bent on getting the pron banned. Back to the 7-11 to by Hustler for you!

  • ||

    "Broadband" has never been classified as a Title II common carrier, Tom. The transmission part of DSL was, but cable broadband has NEVER been so regulated, nor have fiber or satellite broadband access.

    This will be the first time that "broadband" as a cohesive concept--regardless of platform--has been regulated.

    So no, this isn't "re-classification." For most broadband connections, it will be the first time it has been regulated under Title II.

    You've also missed Peter's point: just because they are *promising* to "loosen" the Title II regulations doesn't mean they are legally bound to do so, and it doesn't mean that future FCCs are bound to do so. This is opening up a Pandora's box of Internet regulations that we can't possible predict, because we don't know who will be in the White House in 5 or 10 years.

  • ||

    So, no pretense at scarce resource management or regulation of a government-protected monopoly in the public interest on THIS occasion? How very bold the government is getting at stepping over the lines drawn by its own Constitution.

    Next they'll tell me I have to buy a particular commercial product just because I exist, or face penalty.

    Oh.

    Defeat all incumbents in November (and all holdovers in the several Novembers after that), and do NOT award victory to their opposite numbers in the "other" major party. Find independents and acceptable third-party candidates to do the job. The two major parties have a very harsh rebuke coming to them. Let's not fail to serve it to them at the earliest possible opportunity. Enough is enough and defeat at the polls is the only thing that politicians ever seem to understand. Too bad it has to be that way, but we need to be strong and do what is necessary to set things right.

  • BangBang||

    I'll give the Democrats credit. They say and push for more government and eventually get it. The whole time Republicans were in control they didn't kill off any significant agency but are always talking about smaller government. Smaller government is more than just taxes.

  • Rich||

    President Barack Obama vowed during his campaign to support regulation to promote so-called net neutrality

    Well, there you have it.

    What James Anderson Merritt said.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Camel. Nose. Tent.

  • Coeus||

    "Just the tip, I promise."

  • ||

    Moynihan's media career is not video bound if he doesn't learn how to control his head movements.

    And Mallory is aging badly. Very badly.

  • ||

    I tried watching this, but Moynihan's smarm made me vomit. I'll have to go elsewhere to learn more.

  • ||

    even if you buy the idea that ditching some of the regulations equals some sort of gentle compromise

    Wait, isn't that how America works now? We compromise by giving more and more. That's compromise. (right?)

  • ||

    I'm sorry, I've been reading for years about the supposedly essential thing called "net neutrality" that the government has to enforce, but the entire problem seems to consist of some Comcast customers who had their connections slowed due to overuse a few years ago...? That's it? Oh, I hear lots of horror stories about what might happen, but what else as actually happened that calls for the government to step in?

  • PAULTARD||

    RON PAUL WUZ BLOCKED BY FAUX NEWZ BECAUZE HE SUPPPORTS NET NUETRALITY AND DOESN'T LIKE TO INVADE OTHER PEOPLES INERWEBS!!!!1!!!!

  • Peetsker||

    anyone who thinks this is good is just a fucking ignorant asshole that's been stretched out from shoving his or her own head up it and blowing smoke.

  • TheRadicalModerate||

    When FCC staffers claim they're not going to regulate the Internet, what they actually mean is that, at least with regard to Net neutrality rules, they're not going to regulate the content layer.

    Legitimate concerns about content regulation notwithstanding, the FCC can do more damage by regulating how ISPs can manage their traffic. When these guys talk about application neutrality, what they really mean is, "Any application will work just great as long as it's based on TCP."

    The innovative stuff on the internet isn't based on TCP traffic (which has a well-understood set of congestion control mechanisms already), it's based on UDP and RTP transports, which require constant fiddling by the ISPs to work properly. With a few poorly-placed regulations, the FCC can destroy nascent conversational video services and cap the growth of VoIP, to say nothing of preventing tele-operation, sensor monitoring, and a host of things we haven't thought of from ever getting off the ground

  • ||

    And liberals continue to happily give away our freedoms.

  • Windtell||

    I don't disagree with this, but I do think that you're forgetting the Bush years. I know it seems like they were all just a nightmare, but they really happened.

  • The FCC||

    All your packets will be fairly delivered. I just need to see them.

  • Capt ELaine||

    Amazing how easily the power grabbing leftist..have implemented their plans to enslave us..and the foolish sheep line up and say thank you please can I have some more of that.

  • ||

    The whole issue needs to be turned 180 degrees. Consider the business premise: the user wants to pull as many bits through the net as possible, and the content providers would like to send as many as possible, but the ISP (who advertises a nearly unlimited pipe) actually wants to limit the total bits to as few as possible, since they cost money to provide.
    If the users were paying by the bit (rather than a monthly subscription, not in addition to) the whole dynamic would be changed.

  • ||

    After the earlier defeats in the courts, I wonder if they will even be able to do this.

  • anon||

    I have my own series of tubes, when they try to censor 1 intenet, the rest of the internets rear their ugly head and retaliates with the full fury of a woman scorned.

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