Washington agrees to disagree over internet approach


The rules of the road for the information superhighway known as the internet proposed by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is getting reaction from legislators, watchdogs and others, all the way up to the White House. It’s being called everything from praiseworthy to a woefully loophole-ridden attempt to a classic overreach from a renegade government agency.

Here’s what people are saying:

* United States’ Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra: President Obama is strongly committed to net neutrality in order to keep an open Internet that fosters investment, innovation, consumer choice, and free speech. The announced action by FCC Chairman Genachowski, building on the work of Chairman Waxman’s collaborative effort to craft legislation in this area, advances this important policy priority. We recognize that this announcement reflects a significant amount of effort on the part of numerous broadband providers, Internet applications developers, content providers, consumer groups, and others to finding a thoughtful and effective approach to this issue. Today’s announcement is an important step in preventing abuses and continuing to advance the Internet as an engine of productivity growth and innovation.

* Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) (remarks made prior to Genachowski’s announcement): The Internet as an open platform for innovation is not an aspiration, it is a reality. I have not seen any evidence to date that would justify this regulatory overreach. In fact, the Internet has developed and thrived precisely because it has not been weighed down with burdensome government regulations. This has allowed the web to evolve to meet swift changes without having to worry about new government roadblocks holding up progress. I am especially troubled that this action would occur without Congressional input and before the new members of Congress have been sworn in. The American people clearly repudiated this type of government expansion on November 2nd. FCC Chairman Genachowski needs to stand down from his plans to impose onerous net neutrality restrictions. If he decides to move forward, I will explore all options available to keep the FCC from implementing regulations that will threaten the innovation and job creation opportunities associated with the Internet.”

* Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN): This is a hysterical reaction by the FCC to a hypothetical problem. This would be a massive expansion of federal authority at a time when Americans want less government and will put a choke hold on job growth when we’re trying to create jobs. Chairman Genachowski has little if any Congressional support for ‘net neutrality’. He can expect this folly to be overturned in the New Year, and to ensure that, I will reintroduce my bill to pull the FCC from the policy making process on the first day of the 112th Congress.

* Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA): I commend Chairman Genachowski for taking this important next step towards preservation of a free and open Internet. Before the order is finalized, there are several elements that I believe should be included to ensure that the final order protects consumers, spurs investment and job creation, fosters innovation and promotes the free flow of ideas. An explicit ban on paid prioritization is needed to retain the ability of all Internet users to communicate and compete on a level playing field, preventing the emergence of fast and slow lanes that have been contrary to the nature of the Internet since its creation. Additionally, a common policy framework for wireless and wireline broadband services should be a core component of the final open Internet order so that consumer protections are not determined by whether a user accesses the Internet via a fixed or mobile connection. It is essential that the Commission has the authority necessary to enforce the elements of its order. While I support the reclassification of broadband Internet access services under Title II, I look forward to further details and discussion about how the Commission proposes to ensure that it is on solid legal footing without such reclassification.

* Consumer Enterprise Institute’s Wayne Crews: In his speech this morning, Mr. Genachowski rightly evangelized the Internet’s virtues, but he didn’t utter one word about the institutions that made this success possible. Property rights, decentralized decision making, and regulatory restraint—not the FCC—enabled the Internet to flourish. The FCC’s proposed net neutrality rules will entrench the Internet as we know it today, with all of its shortcomings. If the Internet is to realize its full potential in decades to come, we will need far more robust networks—and many more of them. For regulators in 2010 to attempt to envision what these networks will look in the future is a fool’s errand. As today’s announcement illustrates, the FCC is a fundamentally backwards-looking institution. If the Commission were truly concerned about consumer welfare, rather than expanding its own turf, it would articulate the case for network experimentation. Instead, the commission treats the Internet’s infrastructure as some inexplicable gift that fell out of the sky. (A CEI statement is where the “renegade” comment came from.)

* Josh Silver of Free Press (prior to Genachowski’s announcement): We are glad the FCC is finally moving forward, but early reports indicate that this proposal looks like the fake Net Neutrality preferred by foes of the open Internet and retreats from the real consumer protections previously outlined by Chairman Genachowski. Real Net Neutrality means a clear prohibition on paid prioritization, equal protections on wireless and wired networks, and a clear user-focused definitions of broadband access and reasonable network management. But it appears that the current draft order falls short on each of these important aspects, with language that creates loopholes that you could drive a Verizon-Google-sized truck through… Now is the moment for forward-looking, visionary policymaking, not half-measures and convoluted compromises with the companies trying to kill the free and open Internet.

RBR-TVBR observation: Republicans will have their hands on the gavel in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce come January. We strongly suspect that Chairman Genachowski will receive a warm invitation to sit on that committee’s griddle sooner rather than later in 2011.

Pictured: Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)