The FCC Steps Up To Protect Net Neutrality. But Does It Go Far Enough?

The FCC will in fact be reregulating the ways we connect to the Internet in order to protect net neutrality, a report in The Wall Street Journal says today. Assuming this is true, it’s huge news, and potentially a huge win for consumers. But the big question will be: does it go far enough?

There isn’t much detail in the WSJ report, but the key part is that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s staff has been briefing FCC commissioners on changes that will be made to the regulation of Internet lines. The companies in charge of such lines, such as phone and cable companies, have been arguing that new regulations would hurt their businesses. They fear that they may have to open these lines to competitors (God forbid!) or be forced to have rate limits (the horror!). According to the WSJ report, the FCC officials are saying that won’t be the case, and instead will mainly be concerned with ensuring net neutrality.

Last month, a federal court ruled that the FCC does not have the authority to enforce net neutrality. At the time, the FCC said, “Today’s court decision invalidated the prior Commission’s approach to preserving an open Internet. But the Court in no way disagreed with the importance of preserving a free and open Internet; nor did it close the door to other methods for achieving this important end.” So you have to imagine they’ll be using one of the “other methods” under this plan.

Much of this is centered around the FCC’s recently announced National Broadband Plan. That plan, while good in a number of ways, doesn’t go nearly far enough in ensuring that there’s competition in the market — the key factor that can make broadband truly flourish in this country. Harvard Law professor Yochai Benkler had a great op-ed in the New York Times back in March about this. At the time, we wrote that we may have to rely on companies like Google and their ambitious fiber plan to open up the market in a way that the government won’t. Sadly, few companies have the resources (or the will) of Google, and even that is limited, so the U.S. is still going to be largely under the control of the old guard ISPs.

Net neutrality is great, but the FCC needs to do exactly what the cable and phone companies don’t want them to do: create more competition in the market. If there’s true competition, net neutrality would be less of an issue because people would just switch to a different provider if the one they’re on tries to block certain sites, or throttles others. Unfortunately, right now, consumers can’t do that because ISPs have monopolies in many areas of the country.