If reports are to be believed, the Federal Communications Commission is on the very cusp of making a big bold move on broadband. FCC Chair Julius Genachowski is expected to announce that the commission is declaring its authority over broadband Internet service. In regulation-speak, from here on out broadband will be treated as a Title II service, as it had been until 2002. That gives the FCC the power to regulate broadband as a common carrier service, as part of the backbone of the modern telecommunications infrastructure.
Genachowski's move puts everything back on the table, from net neutrality to the implementation of the National Broadband Plan. This would be day one of a new telecommunications landscape in the United States.
That said, the most important word we're going to hear today on this topic is "forbearance." The solution that Genachowski worked out is to say that he and his commission won't use all of the authority granted to it under Title II. For example, one prospect that scares the heck out of Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, and the other telecoms is that they'll be required to share their lines with their competitors. Genachowski is expected to tell the telecoms that they won't have to share their lines with anyone.
Telecom incumbents are going to complain, with some justification, that a forbearance granted under one Federal Communications Commission can be altered by future chairs and future commissions. But nothing's perfect. Treating broadband as a "Title II Lite" service, as the FCC is reportedly calling it, seems an elegant solution. The Internet is, really, a strange hybrid of conduit and content, and Genachowski's plan seems to be an honest reflection of the nature of those networks. At least, it's a far more honest understanding of what broadband means and how it works than the one the government's been limping along with for the last several years.
And that's a start. It's good for consumers, as it adds government checks on a telecom landscape that needs more balance. It's also, ultimately, a good move for the telecoms, as they'll have clear new guidance on how the government sees their business. Though don't expect them to see it that way right away.
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