FCC Needs to Stop Bluffing and Make Internet a Public Utility

Nomination Hearing Of Thomas Wheeler To Be Chairman Of The FCCNew Orleans   I get the sinking feeling that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the former industry lobbyist and trade association leader, is all bluff and no brass.  

            First, he leaks his new rules that clearly will end “net neutrality” by creating a two-tiered cost structure on speeds for internet access on the so-called “last mile” to the consumer, indicating the FCC under his leadership will allow the construction of a toll road there for those who have the cash. 

            Secondly, Wheeler acts surprised that there is a firestorm about this cave-in on the President’s commitment to maintain net neutrality, and believes that if he keeps saying that the FCC is committed to net neutrality, that’s the same as guaranteeing it is true.   He also seems surprised that his industry background makes people skeptical that he will stop the Comcast monopolist pursuit to control 40% of the broadband internet market by purchasing Times-Warner’s cable operations.  All of this seems more of a bait-and-switch than anything else.

            Then, he finally states the obvious that there isn’t “as much competition” in many parts of the communications industry “as consumers and innovators deserve.”  Come on, man!

            Somehow the new chairman thinks that tough talk can take the place of real action.   All he promises is that the FCC is going use its increasingly flaccid muscle to finally override state laws that restrict cities from creating their own broadband networks to reduce costs and improve access.  It goes without saying that the FCC has watched passively for years as the cable companies funded lobbyists and lawyers while spending millions greasing the rails to get these laws passed by legislators they had bought when they couldn’t buy enough city officials to stop it.  So, yes, better late than never, but then we have to also reckon with the fact of how many cities in the current economic environment will be able to afford to erect such networks and resist the money and lobbying to stop them from doing so.  We also have to realize that Wheeler is talking about a third tier where those lucky enough to live in such cities have faster and cheaper access while the rest of the country takes it in the ear.

            The biggest bluff is the real deal game changer.   He threatens to call hearings to determine whether or not the internet finally needs to be classified as a public utility, which is exactly what it is and needs to be, rather than a private cash cow for the monopolists and a barrier for the peoples’ progress.  Canada is in the process of calling such hearings.  Comments are already being requested by the FCC without hearings, more as a formality. 

Clearly our only real protection for a free and open internet, perhaps eventually available to all, is finally doing what should have already been done and making the internet universal as a utility, like gas, electric, and water.  The White House needs to make a call to their FCC chair and tell him to stop bluffing and show some real brass, and give American consumers and innovators what they really deserve, which is a guarantee of the future of the internet at its best, which will only happen as a publicly regulated utility.             

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