May 15, 2010

Republican bill could mean ‘No Way’ for Genachowski’s ‘Third Way’

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Federal Communications Commission Chairperson Julius Genachowski defended the FCC’s recently announced “Third Way” approach to regulating broadband Internet last week, two days after a Republican lawmaker introduced a bill that could handicap the agency's ability to ensure net neutrality.

Some free-Internet advocates cheered when Genachowski unveiled his ‘Third Way’ plan— which subjects the transmission component of broadband Internet to Title II common-carrier service regulations— earlier this month.

A response to an April 6 ruling by an appellate court that said the FCC lacked authorization to regulate the Internet service activities of Broadband giant Comcast, the ‘Third Way,’ Genachowski said, strikes a compromise between companies who want no Internet oversight and net neutrality advocates who say a laissez-faire Internet industry—which lets corporations call the shots on how fast, how accessible, and how costly broadband service will be—lends itself to digital injustice.

“It is a win-win for consumers, Internet and technology companies, and broadband access providers,” said Markham Erickson, the executive director of the Open Internet Coalition (OIC) in a statement May 5, the eve of Genachowski’s announcement.

The ‘Third Way’ only grants the FCC limited control over broadband companies. It does not authorize the FCC to regulate Internet content or set internet rates. Only the transmission component of broadband Internet service, the FCC says, will be redefined as a telecommunications service.Like the phone industry, broadband transmissions will be placed under FCC’s watch. Genachowski has said the FCC will not subject Internet companies to all of the same regulations in place for telephone companies and the commission will ‘forbear’—or refrain—from taking any action unless necessary.

The soft-handed regulatory approach, said Genachowski in a May 6 statement, “provides a solid legal basis,” for the FCC to move toward their long-stated objective of net neutrality.

Legislation introduced Tuesday, however, might chip away at the FCC’s freshly laid legal foundation. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.)’s Internet Protection, Investment and Innovation Act would require the FCC to present an extensive cost-benefit analysis to congress before imposing any regulations outlined in the Title II act.

Lawmakers would decide if the FCC’s intervention was truly warranted. Genachowski stood up for FCC’s ‘Third Way’ Thursday at a press conference filled with Internet company executives. He said the 'Third Way' plan is a proposal designed to foster competition in the industry.

 It will also increase access to the Web and elevates Internet service in America to the standards set by global leaders in broadband, Genachowski said. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Genachowski said he was open to collaborating with industry leaders to make sure their companies' investments don’t suffer while the FCC works to maintaining an free internet.

However telecommunications corporations—including AT&T Inc., Comcast and Verizon—remain doubtful.

Though Genachowski says the FCC will refrain from imposing many of the Title II regulations, they say the FCC’s reclassification of broadband transmission could hinder their corporate livelihoods and prevent them from developing innovative broadband technologies.

The ‘Third Way’ brings “confusion and delay to the important work of continuing to build the nation’s broadband future,” Thomas J. Tauke, an executive vice president at Verizon, told the New York Times.

Others said the FCC’s “Third Way’ is less an attempt to thwart the progress of corporations and more an effort to retain status quo for broadband users. “We do believe the Third Way is a well-balanced and reasoned approach," said Paul Misener, Vice President of Public Policy at Amazon at a press conference organized by the OIC May 6.

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