Washington Prowler

Taking Title to the Internet

Obama's net-neutering continues. Plus: Garbage diplomacy.

By 2.22.10

In the fight over the Obama Administration and Federal Communications Commission's attempts to regulate the Internet via a policy known as "net neutrality," a court case involving a cable company and an online company that enables Internet content sharing is forcing the Obama Administration to look for new ways to gain control of Internet networks.

Last month a federal court raised doubts about whether the FCC had jurisdiction over Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as the company in question, Comcast, and AT&T and Verizon, when the FCC made a 2008 ruling that Comcast had illegally blocked the Internet content-sharing application BitTorrent. The court's questioning of the FCC authority now has many -- including senior FCC staff -- believing that the federal court will side with Comcast and rule that the agency has only "ancillary jurisdiction" over broadband services.

But already, the FCC is strategizing on how it can gain regulatory control of the Internet and the broadband networks that connect to it, if the courts rule against them. According to FCC sources, the agency is considering "reclassifying" broadband Internet services under rules that were once used for rotary phone service. To do this, the FCC would categorize broadband networks under Title II, or common carriage rules. Broadband networks have thus far been regulated under Title I, a section for "enhanced communications services."

"You have one set of rules, Title II, that were used for rotary phones, before there was a lot of competition in the communications space, like wireless and the like, and then you have Title I, which has rules more in line with the high-tech world," says an attorney who until recently worked at the FCC. "Common sense says, keep broadband and the Internet under rules for the modern world, not the rules that applied to a technology that was obsolete two decades ago. This just shows how desperate these people are to regulate the networks."

The Washington Post reported that, "Under Title II… the FCC could pursue its net neutrality rules." The FCC would also be able in some ways to "nationalize" the broadband networks, requiring that the high-speed broadband networks deployed via private investment to the tune of more than $80 billion by companies like Comcast and AT&T be opened and accessible to any company that wanted to use them at a price set by the federal government. Such an approach is supported by left-wing organizations that have advised the Democrat staff at the FCC, such as MoveOn.org, FreePress, both entities financed in part by George Soros, and Public Knowledge.

"Some people will disagree, but in my view we're talking about a policy approach that would effectively kill broadband and the Internet, and would allow the federal government to decide which companies or entrepreneurs get to do what on which networks, and at what price," says the former FCC attorney. "People should remember what it was like when we had the government controlling the phone company and the rotary phone and nothing else. Do they remember what it was like when the big innovation in phone service was a phone color other than black? Do they really want the government that deeply involved in something that has done pretty well without them being that heavily involved?"

Press reports indicate that the FCC has been mulling the Title II gambit since late last year, when it became clear the FCC might not have jurisdiction over regulating the Internet. The Title II scheme might be launched via the National Broadband Plan, which the FCC intends to release some time in mid-March. The Wall Street Journal reported that "Federal regulators are considering whether the government should take greater control of the Internet and ask consumers to pay higher phone charges in order to provide all Americans with cheaper access to broadband Internet service." [Emphasis added.] The FCC has estimated that it could cost taxpayers, as much as $350 billion -- more than a quarter trillion dollars -- to achieve that goal. 

State Department sources say that when the Communist Chinese government formally complained to the White House and State about President Barack Obama's private meeting with the Dalai Lama last week, the White House passed along photos showing the Dalai Lama being escorted out a side entrance to the West Wing, where mounds of trash bags lay on the ground. The intent: to show the Chinese government that the administration had not treated the Tibetan religious and political leader with a level of respect past Presidents have afforded the man. For example, in 2007 President George W. Bush proudly attended the ceremony at which the Dalai Lama received a Congressional Medal of Freedom.

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