The battle for control of your Internet is far from over.
The federal government’s layout of the national broadband plan has become the fallback mechanism for proponents of net neutrality. Although the recent appeals court decision in Comcast v. FCC struck a blow against government regulation of the Internet, the opinion did not entirely kill the possibility.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the FCC did not have either direct or ancillary jurisdiction to regulate broadband. This decision was, however, narrowly tailored to specifically exclude broadband from the FCC’s jurisdiction as it is currently classified; thus leaving the door open for the FCC to simply re-classify broadband as a telecommunications service. By doing so, the FCC would then have regulatory jurisdiction, since the FCC has jurisdiction over telecommunications. In effect, re-classification would nullify the judicial decision.
Re-classification to allow FCC regulation is only a small part of the national broadband plan for your Internet service. Recommendation 4.20 (page 58 of the 294-page plan) is for an Internet tax. The proposal for the tax states “the federal government should investigate establishing a national framework for digital goods and services taxation.” Proponents argue that an Internet tax would reduce uncertainty and “remove one barrier to online entrepreneurship and investment.”
This rationale presupposes that there are barriers to entrepreneurship and investment. But as I pointed out in my comments to the FCC, more than 96% of U.S. zip codes are served by two or more broadband providers. Those companies have invested huge sums in the Internet infrastructure, including $70 billion last year alone.
Clearly, the current competitive marketplace has already unleashed private investment, innovation, low prices, and a myriad of competitive options. Disrupting the competitive climate will only bring uncertainty and confusion.
So why do this? The stated goal behind the recommendation is to allow federal, state, and local governments to unleash private investment, innovation, lower prices, and give better options for consumers. There is no indication in the recommendation, however, on how these goals will be accomplished by instituting a new tax.
Regardless, the national broadband plan initiative is still being pushed at the federal level. The battle over line management will continue for the foreseeable future.
– Ryan Brannan