August 6, 2010
The FCC has abandoned an effort to get the private sector to back its power play on Internet authority after Google reached an agreement with Verizon on network access. The private negotiations took the wind out of Julius Genachowski’s net neutrality sails, and left the FCC chair with nothing to bring to Congress for explicit regulatory authority. That doesn’t mean they’ve given up the fight, however:
The Federal Communications Commission Thursday suspended its weeks-long series of talks with Internet providers on Net neutrality, dealing a blow to efforts to produce a deal that the agency could take to Congress.
The decision to cut off negotiations marks a major political setback for Chairman Julius Genachowski, whose office reached out to stakeholders six weeks ago to strike an agreement and avoid a public battle over rules that would treat all users’ Web traffic equally.
But the end to industry discussions — which a source close to the FCC talks blamed entirely on news that Google and Verizon separately sought some form of net neutrality agreement — could now force the FCC to take a more aggressive approach to solidifying its broadband authority.
After six weeks, the FCC didn’t get anywhere with the private-sector stakeholders, and not just Google and Verizon. Genachowski’s push to treat the Internet as a public utility has very little enthusiasm anywhere but to the Left, which insists on imposing more regulation to have government dictate access policies on private networks. As I explained in June, the Internet is not a public utility nor a monopoly, but a service provided by the private sector with plenty of competition, especially in wireless access.
Genachowski needed an agreement that involved the private sector in order to give him and Congress political cover for a net-neutrality arrangement that leaves the FCC in charge of the Internet — and perhaps even content, or at least access to it. Without an industry consensus, Congress isn’t about to impose yet another big regulatory burden in a season where voters are already angry about government overreach. Genachowski will have to either wait for the lame-duck session or once again abuse the rule-making process, which the courts have already blocked once and Congress has demanded he stop doing.
If Genachowski does pursue his goals through rule-making, he may find his budget emptied by a Republican House in January. Control of the lower chamber means the power to defund such arrogations of power, and the GOP will likely make the FCC one of its first targets in those circumstances.