Hope still flickers for thoughtful Internet policy at the FCC

16 September 2014 by Steve Blum
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There might yet be an intellectual debate at the FCC about network neutrality. A debate on facts and philosophy, rather than a negotiation for spoils or a partisan punch up. Four commissioners – the entire FCC minus chair Tom Wheeler who did a solo turn earlier – had an hour-long conversation with new CTIA head (and former FCC commissioner) Meredith Baker at a standing room only session at the CTIA show in Las Vegas last week.

When the talk turned to the FCC’s current net neutrality proceeding, commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel put Exhibit A for an open Internet on the table: the new virtual economy that’s been built, starting in the U.S., on a ubiquitous network that runs without centralised control, either by government or industry. “Our Internet economy is the model for the world”, she said. But as control of the Internet, particularly the last mile, becomes increasingly concentrated in the hands of large incumbent companies, government regulation is a necessary counterweight.

Commissioner Ajit Pai, on the other hand, characterised net neutrality as “a solution in search of a problem”, and particularly so in the U.S. mobile industry, where there is comparatively robust competition and a history of light regulation, and billions of dollars of investment as a result.

Rosenworcel seems to lean toward stricter, or at least more specific, net neutrality rules than the draft floated a couple of months ago by Wheeler. Pai doesn’t want any at all. They’re both right on the facts and they both start with the facts and reason the problem through from there. So long as the conversation continues on that basis, there’s still hope for a rational, rather than political, outcome.