The FCC had been meeting with lobbyists for the telecoms, broadcasters and Internet giants like Google for the past week, trying to accommodate them in selling out the Internet. This only worked in getting net neutrality activists to recognize what a disaster was looming in just a few short weeks. Free Press and others engaged the FCC directly with a variety of methods.
Today, we learn that the FCC has called off the backroom meetings. This is their statement:
Statement by Edward Lazarus, FCC Chief of Staff, on recent round of stakeholder discussions: “We have called off this round of stakeholder discussions. It has been productive on several fronts, but has not generated a robust framework to preserve the openness and freedom of the Internet – one that drives innovation, investment, free speech, and consumer choice. All options remain on the table as we continue to seek broad input on this vital issue.”
This could mean nothing at all – perhaps just an indication that Verizon and Google are working on their own and don’t really need the FCC, and if the regulator chooses not to reclassify and regulate in this area, then the big stakeholders will get their way. It’s good that they won’t be codifying this into the regulatory apparatus, rather than announcing a joint agreement.
But this whole fight is about the meaning of “the openness and freedom of the Internet,” and all that implies. It could mean what it has historically meant online, or it could mean what Google and Verizon appear to want it to mean. That’s the choice. So the work isn’t done here.
Meanwhile, Alan Grayson tries to explain his siding with the telecoms on this issue by saying that the regulatory apparatus won’t work and that Congress should pass a statute.
So why does Grayson, a progressive champion, oppose allowing the FCC to regulate the Internet and implement net neutrality rules? The Orlando Democrat says that he is in favor of net neutrality and that his alliance with the telecom industry is a coincidental case of “strange bedfellows.”
“I say in the letter that I support the policy of net neutrality. I don’t know how I could be more explicit than that,” he told HuffPost. “There is a question, though, of how to reach that conclusion, and it’s a legitimate question. My own feeling is that we should not allow a matter like this to be resolved by regulation, because regulations can be changed very easily. We saw this all the time with the Bush administration. I think it is preferable to have the principle of net neutrality enshrined in statute.” [...]
Grayson may be the only advocate of net neutrality who thinks that positive action is possible in this Congress or the next. “I don’t see any reason to think that won’t happen soon,” Grayson said of congressional action on net neutrality. “This is obviously a matter with a lot of attention. I don’t think [Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry] Waxman or [Communications, Technology and the Internet Subcommittee Chairman Rick] Boucher have ever said they regard this as anything other than a high priority. So I don’t see why we need to make this choice. I regard it as a false choice.”
That’s just too clever by half. It’s not exactly easy to move things through the United States Congress. Furthermore, the FCC has everything they need statutorily to engage in regulation in this area, through the 1996 Telecommunications Act and the 2005 Supreme Court decision that the FCC could classify broadband as a telecommunications service. As Marvin Ammori says in the piece: “It sounds like they’re unwilling to change regulations because they’re worried Republicans will change them back… It just highlights that Republicans are willing to change the law and Democrats aren’t.”
By the way, Republicans can – and have planned to – change statutes back when they regain power, too.