On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission ruled 3 to 2 that the internet would henceforth be classified as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. If applying an 80-year-old law to a 25-year-old technological innovation seems odd, it seems odder still when you consider that contents of the 300-odd pages of regulations have been so jealously guarded a secret that not even the light of Congress could penetrate. So much for a presidency so transparent that every piece of legislation would appear online for several days before its passage so the public could react.
But even the Affordable Health Care Act, which “we had to pass to see what was in it,” was made available to prying eyes the day after it was signed into law. Not so the rules governing net neutrality. We are now two days — the web equivalent of two light years — beyond the FCC’s pronouncement and the regs are still under wraps. You’d think that every American, regardless of ideological bent, would want to know what lay in store for broadband providers and users going forward.
You’d be wrong. A Washington Post article that ran yesterday (1) implies that only conservatives have any skin in the game and (2) asserts that a conspiracy theory is brewing on the right over the agency’s ongoing secrecy. The author, Brian Fung — who, judging from his headshot, looks to be about the same age as the internet — asks mockingly, “Why won’t they release the rules?!?!” He continues in this vein:
Conservatives are demanding that the FCC release a full copy of the regulations that it’s planning to impose on companies such as Comcast and Verizon — and taking the agency’s silence as evidence of a cover-up. Readers of an FCC blog post have suspiciously mused that “these new regulations should have been published by now.” It’s much the same over on Twitter.
— Victoria Strauss (@victoriastrauss) February 26, 2015
Fung admits that “it was certainly within FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s power to release his draft proposal before it came to a vote” but can’t imagine why anyone would be curious about why he chose not to. Fung notes correctly that “the regulations now must go through a formal process before they become official” but then leaps to the conclusion that this was “the chief reason the FCC won’t be releasing the rules for some time.” If Fung has a source for this claim, I for one would be interested in seeing it.
His next statement is demonstrably false: “Not even Internet providers, who are generally frustrated by the content of the rules, are all that outraged about the delay.” Fung waffles by introducing the quantifier “all that,” but the big players among ISPs, including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, fought strenuously against the Title II regs, and as Fung again concedes will “likely sue to have them overturned.” You can read more about the “outrage” of major broadband providers and the remedies they will be seeking at Ars Technica.
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