The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the federal government will step in and begin regulating broadband lines under rules adopted decades ago designed for traditional phone networks.
The move will go a long way in enforcing a “net neutrality”, which is meant to insure that all content is delivered equally, regardless of its source or type.
According to the article, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski is expected to outline plans today for how the FCC and the federal government will regulate broadband lines. The decision comes after a ruling early last month by a federal appeals court, which said that the FCC had overstepped its bounds in a 2008 matter involving ComCast. The decision said that the FCC had acted outside of its legal authority when it found that ComCast had “significantly impeded consumers’ ability to access the content and use the applications of their choice.”
According to the Journal, the FCC “has maintained a mostly hands-off approach to Internet regulation” for the past decade or so, likely in response to warnings by cable and telecommunications executives that federal regulations would lead these companies to “cut billions of capital expenditures for their networks, slash jobs and go to court to fight the rules.”
Many fear that, without net neutrality rules, ISPs and communications companies will begin charging more for faster access to websites. While customers already pay on a scale according to bandwidth, speed is not capped according to payment on the other end of the equation. That is, if I can download at 1 Mbps, I should be able to get that speed whether I am going to the MTV website or the website for a local business, as long as the servers they are hosted on can provide that speed as well. It should not be up to the communications companies to determine how quickly that content is served up according to how much they might pay.
According to Mike McCurry, former press secretary to President Bill Clinton and co-chair of the Arts + Labs Coaltion, the issue is not cut and dry.
“The question is how heavy a hand will the regulatory touch be,” he said. “We don’t know yet, so the devil is in the details. The network operators have to be able to treat some traffic on the Internet different than other traffic–most people agree that web video is different than an email to grandma. You have to discriminate in some fashion.”
It’s likely that the courts will agree and we’ll be hearing about this decision for some time to come.