End of Net Neutrality? The Real Battle is Just Beginning

April 6, 2010

Given that the Washington D.C. Court of Appeals today smacked down the FCC’s ham-handed attempt to impose net neutrality rules on Comcast from a couple years ago, it’s no surprise that many folks are proclaiming this to be the end of net neutrality and a blow to the Obama administration’s telecom plans.

They should know better.

All this does is mark the start of the real battle for not just net neutrality, but for control over matters broadband and beyond.

In reality, today’s decision is probably a somewhat welcome one for the Julius Genachowski-led FCC and the Obama telecom troops, since it officially removes the taint of questionable decisions led by former FCC chairman Kevin Martin from the net neutrality debate. Martin, the friend of big telcos like AT&T and Verizon, ostensibly presided over the implementation of the net neutrality “principles” back in 2005 and then the Comcast case itself. But being by all accounts a very smart guy, Martin is probably laughing out loud somewhere now, knowing that his tactics and decisions probably got the end goal he and his backers truly wanted — mass confusion around net neutrality and the FCC’s role in adjucating it.

Though we’ve sort of been off the policy beat lately, I remember asking lots of insiders about the Comcast decision after it was initially passed, and even the most pro-net neutrality types all thought it would eventually be overturned like it was today. “Good result, bad process” was the way one net neut proponent summed up the original FCC ruling. Good call.

But since Obama’s election, Genachowski and other administration types have been busy looking well beyond the Comcast case, putting in motion not only a separate net neutrality proceeding, but also developing the recently released national broadband plan, which if executed as described will go a long ways toward making net neutrality principles part of everyday regulatory practices — not by trying to define the slippery idea of net neutrality itself but by implementing a raft of actual measurable, enforceable things like truth in broadband-speed advertising and transparency in network management practices.

Should the broadband plan’s metrics-based ideas come to pass, network service providers would have a hard time hiding the kind of dubious practices that got Comcast in hot water in the first place. And just like with the health care bill, Obama and the Democrats probably have all the votes they need right now to pass new net neutrality regulations should they so desire — in fact insiders we have talked to in the big telco camps fully expect that some sort of net neutrality regulation will appear before the end of the year. But that also means they’re gearing up to fight it, if for no other reason than to keep the nuns safe from Google.

We digress. Clearly there is much more still to happen, and we’ll be watching while it does. But the end of net neutrality? In reality, a much bigger battle for the ultimate control of the nation’s networks has just begun.

FCC Chair Genachowski Speaks — To Om

August 3, 2009

If you needed any more evidence that this isn’t your grandfather’s FCC, look no farther than this great one-on-one interview between my old boss Om Malik and new FCC chairman Julius Genachowski.

Though Genachowski dances a bit around Om’s pointed questions that is understandable, since he hasn’t been chairman long enough to get much of anything done. But the simple fact that this chairman is reaching out to individual, influential voices in the blogosphere means that the door is now open to let telecom policy makers and regulators hear what’s being said and what’s being thought outside the insular walls of Washington D.C.

The money quote from Genachowski: “we [the FCC under Genachowski] want to be fact-based and data-driven.” Knowing as we do that our good friend Blair Levin is leading the FCC’s development of a new overall national broadband plan (which, we have been told, will probably be more far-reaching and influential than the historic 1996 Telecom Act), it’s pretty easy to guess that whatever happens going forward is going to have to pass the tests of openness and public scrutiny — a far better way to make sausage, as our pal Harold Feld might say, than previous regimes. And that is change we can believe in, from a telecom policy point of view.

Net Neutrality: A Historical Timeline

November 16, 2008

With the ch-ch-ch-ch-changes coming soon to the FCC (and to some Congressional committees) there is a lot of news lately about the debate over network neutrality, a topic near and dear to our hearts. In case you’re new to the game or want to catch up, there’s never a better time to order our report on the subject, titled Net Neutrality Phase II: The Battle of 2009.

Starting with the FCC’s recent order punishing Comcast for its blocking of peer-to-peer applications, our report examines all technical and political parts of the debate, and how proponents and their opponents will position themselves following the November elections. Which is now, so there’s still time to get up to speed before the debate gets going in 2009. As a public service, we are offering below our historical net neutrality timeline, which was vetted by several experts; however, if you see errors or omissions, feel free to comment and add your bit to the cause. Timeline, after the jump. One more pitch to order our report, right here.

(Thanks to Silicon Flatirons and neutralitylaw.org for the great archives.)
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