Yesterday, we examined the April 6, 2010 decision at the the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which basically stated that the FCC has no authority to compel internet service providers to do… well, a lot. The case was based on a August 2008 FCC order against Comcast, in which the Commission told the company to stop messing with BitTorrent traffic.
Currently, the Commission is involved in two incredibly important internet-related activities: one is its net neutrality rulemaking, and the other is its National Broadband Plan. Both are now in limbo as a result of the Court ruling.
Net neutrality is the principle that protects the open internet. It means that all users can upload and download the lawful content of their choice without interference from their ISP. This is a big deal for musicians and other content creators, who depend on the open internet to do everything from booking shows to selling merch to communicating with fans. But the big telecommunications and cable companies want to charge content providers (like musicians) a fee for the faster delivery of their sites and services. If you couldn’t afford to (or didn’t want to) pay a “toll,” you could be stuck in the slow lane. Oh, and who wants a corporation making decisions about where you go and what you say online? Musicians, just like everyone else, depend on their voices to communicate. They shouldn’t be silenced at an ISP’s whims.
Then there’s the National Broadband Plan, which aims to get quality, affordable high-speed internet to underserved parts of the country. These days, everything from job searches to education happen online. Musicians and fans need connectivity, too. What if you had to move to the big city to be able to plug in your amp? Why should artists and entrepreneurs be foreclosed from participation in the digital music marketplace due to a lack of broadband access? If the court decision puts the brakes on the National Broadband Plan, that’s not good for anyone.
So what happens next?
That’s what a lot of people, including folks at the FCC, are attempting to figure out. At the moment, there’s a growing call for the Commission to reclassify broadband internet under a different section of the Telecommunications Act so it can have more solid legal footing to do its work. We’re not going to get into what all that entails right here, but we have pulled together a list of articles should give you a better sense of how the FCC can move forward with its internet agenda.
Here’s an excellent Q&A with telecommunications authority and University of Michigan law professor Susan Crawford, who says that, by bucking FCC regulatory authority, Comcast “won the battle and arguably lost the war.”
This Wall Street Journal item is called “Why Net Neutrality Ruling Is A ‘Tragedy’ For Small Businesses,” and features “cleantech” entrepreneur Steve Westly. Here’s a particularly good part:
What certain companies like Comcast want to do is say, “Pay extra, or you get the slow pipe.” This is like saying, ‘You must commute to work, but you can’t take the freeway, you have to take the slow road. It will cost you $300 to take the freeway.” This would be a tragedy for our nation’s future, for Internet service providers to tell you that you can’t use the big lane that goes fast, but the little lane that goes slowly.
Westly also says that “Congress should advocate for this… Congress should give FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski the tools he needs to implement net neutrality.”
Speaking of Congress, CNN’s Money.com has an article called “Why Congress is Comcastic.” Here’s a choice bit:
Think of the Internet as potentially made up of fast lanes and slow lanes—and perhaps forbidden lanes. For example, if Comcast or Time-Warner (TWC) wanted to create a multi-tiered service in which content-providers paid more to deliver their Web pages faster, they theoretically could so. Or perhaps a broadband provider might prohibit some traffic altogether, say, involving, overly large files or video that might lead a customer to cutting his or her cable TV service.
The article goes on to say that Congress should get its act together and help the FCC do its job.
The FCC could reclassify by a simple majority vote of commissioners. Chairman Genachowski has made protecting the open Internet a signature effort of his tenure. He has the support of the majority of FCC commissioners on that. He should now move to reclassify with a simple vote at the agency.
Moreover, the Supreme Court case has specifically said the decision to reclassify is up to the FCC, and as long as the Commission gives good reasons for its choice to do so, that action should be upheld in the courts.
If you read all of those articles, give yourself a cookie! Oh, and don’t forget — there’s one day left to let the FCC know your thoughts on the internet in their Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on net neutrality. You can use our handy comments tool to do just that.