A win for an open Internet: Genachowski lays out new plan to protect broadband rights

Today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski announced his intention to reassert the FCC's authority to protect broadband consumers' rights, including net neutrality. The Chairman's full statement is here (pdf).

The move comes two weeks after a federal appeals court decision (Comcast vs.FCC) undermined the legal basis under which the FCC had sought to prevent Internet companies from blocking access to websites; and one week after a room full of folks in Seattle resoundingly told FCC that net neutrality oversight was needed to preserve an open Internet.

Over the last weekend, word spread that Chairman Genachowski might be considering backing off from the Obama administration's pledge to protect net neutrality, in the wake of the Comcast court decision. Media justice and communications democracy advocates across the country deluged the FCC with calls and emails urging him to reconsider that approach--and specifically to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service, essentially reversing a deregulatory move made several years ago by the Bush administration FCC which classified broadband Internet as an "information" service like cable TV.

Genachowski described his recommendation today as a "third way" between (1) doing nothing to reaffirm its authority called into question by the Comcast ruling, and (2) simply reclassifying broadband as a communications service, which he said would impose unneccessary regulatory burdens on Internet providers. Genachowski proposes reclassifying broadband as community advocates have asked, but on a "narrowly tailored" basis ensuring that the FCC will have authority only to ensure the openness of the Internet itself as a network--not to regulate any of the content on the network.

At first glance, this approach, which Genachowski describes as a "deregulatory as opposed to no-regulatory or over-regulatory compact," sounds a lot like what community groups were asking for anyway. There remain, of course, the details of this new proposal to consider; Genachowski's proposed caveats include allowing for poorly-defined "reasonable network management," and anticipate "differences between management of wired networks and wireless networks." The proposal will not become official policy until the full Commission has a chance to discuss it and take a vote. Today, however, the Obama administration went a long way towards fulfilling its campaign promise to protect Internet freedoms.

If you called or emailed the FCC over the last week asking Genachowski to protect an open Internet, pat yourselves on the back--and consider sending another message (at julius.genachowski@fcc.gov) thanking him for responding to the public interest.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey