Washington

Editorial: Caveats and Compromises

12/13/2010 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Make no mistake, the Comcasts and AT&Ts and Verizons of the world
would prefer that the FCC not adopt new network neutrality rules.

They have made that clear, the FCC’s effort to
put rose-colored glasses on their heavily caveated
public support for the compromise notwithstanding.
But they can also count to three, which happens
to be the number of Democratic votes that
had been committed to a Title II reclassification
approach they saw as the nuclear option.

Cable operators,
telcos, and even some
public interest groups
can live with the compromise
proposal the
FCC plans to vote on
Dec. 21.

While we have to
stop short of endorsing
political expedience
over principle,
we can understand
why those who have
to operate in a world
that seeks regulatory
sanity can find some
refuge there.

FCC Chairman
Julius Genachowski
found himself between
a rock and a
hard place, but with
the power to drop that
nuclear Title II bomb
right in the middle of
both. He didn’t.

Instead, Genachowski chose to try and find a
middle ground that provides what he thinks is
necessary for the FCC to carry out its mission,
which, as he has telegraphed at every turn, is to
make the way straight and the path as easy as
possible for broadband.

If we are to live and work and commune and
entertain ourselves on the Internet, as certainly
all indications suggest, then it is no surprise that
the FCC chairman feels that protecting the openness
and accessibility of that lifeline is of paramount
importance.

But Genachowski has also been willing to bring
the industry to the table and apparently listen to
some of their concerns. Yes, that ticks off public-interest
groups that saw three votes as the golden
ticket to a take-no-prisoners approach, but it also
leaves industry some flexibility to monetize their
investments in broadband and make more. And
let’s not forget that
it is industry investment,
not government
funding, that
is going to get broadband
to the remaining
underserved and
unserved communities—
just as it has to
the majority of the
country.

That is something
else that the chairman
also recognized
and figured into his
new equation.

It is not at all clear
what is going to happen
between now and
Dec. 21. Democratic
commissioner Michael
Copps has been
talking about his preference
for the original
Title II option—he
would prefer an even
stronger dose than Genachowksi proposed. But
if he is able simply to move a Title I item too far
from the compromise language cable and telcos
can support—say, with tougher language on specialized
service—all bets are off, and the result,
while it may get the requisite votes, could face a
barrage of legal challenges, some of which any net
neutrality item will probably face.

If Chairman Genachowski cannot get a vote on
the item without moving the tipping point past
the compromise language, then he should pull it
from the agenda.

 

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