There’s a big rally at Google today to protest their joint policy agreement with Verizon, and net neutrality advocates everywhere have assailed the pact, which would allow content discrimination on wireless devices and also “differentiated managed services” to what the document called “the public Internet.” It appears they have an ally in the White House. Marvin Ammori, a professor at the University of Nebraska who has been unsparing in his criticism of the FCC for failing to act and reclassify broadband so they can regulate it, found himself pleased with what the Administration has been saying in the days since the Google-Verizon announcement.
Time Magazine reports that the White House has “kept quiet” on the Google-Verizon pact because the FCC is dealing with net neutrality, and the FCC is an independent agency.
This alone was good news: it means that the White House is denying rumors (reaching Harvard Professor Larry Lessig and others) that it is directing the FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski, to slow-roll net neutrality [...]
Still today, the White House voices unqualified support:
“The President supports an open Internet that drives innovation, investment, free speech and consumer choice,” said White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage, though she declined to say whether the Google-Verizon proposal met that standard. “We support the FCC’s process to establish balanced, sound and enforceable rules in this area.”
Off the record, a White House aide went farther, slamming the two key, gaping, loopholes in the pact: wireless services and the “private Internet” of so-called “managed services.”
Another White House aide said that, while the White House did not want to interfere with the deliberations of the FCC, an independent agency, it was important that any final FCC rule address wireless and managed services, two of the issues raised by Google and Verizon.
This does show a facility with the issue, and where the Google-Verizon deal falls short. The wireless and managed services loopholes make a mockery of the supposed commitment to net neutrality, especially because the future of the Internet is wireless.
Of course, all this commitment from the White House does is punt the ball into the court of the FCC, which has been skittish and unwilling to act thus far. I was pleasantly surprised to see Steven Pearlstein calling for reclassification:
A few months back, when Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski proposed classifying broadband as a “telecommunications service” for purposes of defining the scope of possible regulation, you’d think from the reaction of the industry and its defenders on Capitol Hill that he was proposing a Soviet-style takeover of the Internet.
Never mind that broadband is, by any common-sense definition, a telecommunication service that includes telephone and television offerings that the FCC has been regulating for decades, plus access to this thing called the Internet that was hardly contemplated by the authors of the Communications Act of 1934.
If you read on, you’ll see that Pearlstein falls into the Village trope of finding a middle course, and his solution sounds more like the Google-Verizon deal than I think he realizes. But the FCC can take one from Column A and one from Column B here. First, they can recognize that broadband is clearly a telecommunication service. Second, they can take the cue from the White House that managed services and wireless should be incorporated into the rule. And if Congress freaks out about it, they can try to write their own statute. But the FCC must act first.