Policy

Rhetoric Fills Policy Vacuum

10/04/2010 4:27 AM Eastern

It is tough to tell the players without
a scorecard when it comes to those taking sides and
making proclamations on what either Congress or
the Federal Communications Commission should do
about codifying network-neutrality guidelines or reclassifying
broadband Internet access as a Title II
telecommunications service.

Even with a scorecard, it’s not so easy.

Example: The Alliance for Digital Equality,
which sounds like it could have marched with
Martin Luther King Jr. on Washington, is pitching
Washington instead on avoiding Internet overregulation.

“By calling for reclassification, fringe groups
are simply out of touch with what our communities
really need, and that’s jobs and investment.
We cannot allow them to hijack this debate, nor
can we allow overregulation by the FCC to impede
this goal.” That message came from a Julius,
but certainly not FCC chairman Julius
Genachowski. This was Julius Hollis, the chairman
of ADE.

A check of the ADE membership reveals
one of the more eclectic mixes of companies and groups
among a host of coalitions for and against net-neutrality
regulations.

In addition to the expected AT&Ts and Ciscos, there is
the city of Charleston, S.C. — the stomping grounds of Title
II reclassification backer Mignon Clyburn, the Democratic
commissioner whose vote will be crucial to that effort. Also
on board: the San Diego Chargers. That’s right, the National
Football League team.

The point is not to suggest that the Chargers are not deeply
steeped in common-carrier regulation and the difference
between a Title I information service and a Title II telecommunications
service, though the team has yet to become
acquainted with an NFL title associated with any Roman
numeral.

I can remember — actually only vaguely —when a corngrowers
asociation was attached to a group advocating
for some telecom reform or another.
Turned out nobody at the association quite knew
why they were there.

The point is simply a word to the wise as the
decibel level increases: Consider the source.

With Republicans apparently not willing to go
into an election looking like they have any part on
Internet regulation, the chance that the FCC steps
in has increased.

That’s why press releases from groups on both
sides flooded electronic transoms around town
last week.

Another thing to watch: Terms like “hijack” and
“dangerous” and “abandon” start to be thrown
around in an effort to introduce the fear factor.

Some of that may be justified, but some of it is
simply trying to paint the other side into a dark
and menacing corner.

Try to remember that for the most part (though maybe
not in the case of the Chargers), both sides believe their
talking points.

Either Title II is necessary to give the FCC the regulatory
clarity to implement the national broadband plan and
expand and codify network neutrality rules, or it’s a regulatory
overreach that will chill net investment and stifle
innovation.

Wherever possible, let’s stick with the arguments and tone
down the rhetoric.

March