FCC's Third Way Stirs Up Net Neutrality Ruckus


Last week, Chairman Julius Genochowski released the FCC's so-called "Third Way" plan, a means by which the FCC could regulate service providers in a limited but meaningful manner. Rather than trying to include regulating the Internet as a telephone (Title II) or a teletype (Title I) service under the Telecommunications Act, Genochowski is suggesting that Internet service is similar to Title II, with a number of exceptions.

The plan is generally characterized as a response to an April Federal Court ruling that found that the FCC was overstepping its boundaries by telling Comcast how it could -- and could not -- manage its network load.

While stating that the FCC should have only a limited, "backstop role with respect to broadband Internet communications," Genochowski said in the proposal that the Third Way is constructed to recognize the transmission component of broadband access service -- and only this component -- as a telecommunications service.

The opposition has been lining up to criticize the proposal, arguing that any type of regulation will stifle investment because complying with the regulation is expensive and onerous. It already is difficult (and not lucrative) to run cable or fiber in remote areas and, they say, imposing restrictions will not aid in providing connectivity to under-served regions -- although doing so is one of the goals in the FCC's National Broadband Plan.

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That plan favors sending funds to municipalities rather than using them for investing in innovation. Observers warn that subsidizing current players may do little to get these under-served populations up to speed with broadband any time soon.

Last week, a group of 13 companies -- including Amazon, Google and Sony -- sent the FCC a letter in support of the Third Way.

"Some have argued that in response to the Comcast decision, the FCC should return to old-style telephone regulations to govern the behavior of broadband providers. But a heavy-handed regulatory regime isn’t the right answer either. Consequently, we applaud the middle ground approach that you have proposed," the companies said in the letter. "This framework will ensure that consumers have access to an open Internet, one that would preserve a level playing field for all participants. And it does so without regulating the Internet but only applying basic rules of the road to the transmission services that provide access to the Internet."