Will US broadband escape tough regulation?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is facing tough times in the US at the moment with reports that it will not adopt plans to introduce tougher regulation for broadband services. The FCC recently had its power called into question following a court ruling which deemed that it had no right to sanction a cable company, Comcast, for slowing down Internet traffic, a hot topic in the net-neutrality debate.
Current regulations in the US see broadband defined as an information service rather than a telecommunications service. The definition also applies to the Internet, cable broadband, DSL, powerline broadband and wireless broadband, with wireless most recently getting this definition in 2007. This means that it is regulated under "Title I" rules. Some debate is taking place as to whether these should be reclassified under "Title II" rules which would allow the FCC to closely oversee charges, regulation and practices within the market (such as slowing down competitor's Internet traffic).
The FCC said they are against over-regulation and believe that it would discourage investment by carriers to impose tougher regulation on the industry. A change to "Title II" would need to be mandated by the US Supreme Court. Many pressure groups in the US feel differently and that consumers could face disastrous consequences if the FCC doesn't act to maintain their power.
"If Chairman Genachowski fails to re-establish the FCC authority to protect internet users, he will be allowing companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to slow down, block or censor at will.
They can block any website, any blog post, any tweet, any outreach by a political campaign - and the FCC would be powerless to stop them. Without reclassification, nearly every broadband-related decision the agency makes from here forward will be aggressively challenged in court, and the FCC will likely lose."Josh Silver, (executive director of communications) Free Press
The Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) believe that there could be an industry led approach that might help solve the problem without lengthy legislation to change the FCC's remit.
"We are still at the early stages but everyone is trying to figure out a path that will work for both consumers as well as companies. The Title 1 - Title II argument is a Supreme Court issue. Private sector leadership is important here."Dean Garfield, (President) ITI Council
Back on this side of the water, things are different. Ofcom, our communications regulator, already holds a wider remit on broadband services, being able to force prices on a wholesale level and mandate access to the incumbent network, both of which are aimed to help encourage competition. The fears that consumers in the US have that service providers could block access to websites without the FCC being able to stop them are reversed. Here, government under the new Digital Economy Act instead wield that power, and consumers fear that this could lead to similar restrictions being imposed by the state.