FCC Head: Elephant Has Left the Building

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Federal Communications
Commission chairman Julius Genachowski
said last Thursday that rate
regulation, wholesale unbundling
and reselling are “off the table” when
it comes to applying Title II regulations
to broadband transmission.

That came in an interview with National
Cable & Telecommunications
Association president Kyle McSlarrow
at a general session at The Cable
Show 2010 in Los Angeles. Last week,
McSlarrow, who had sought the assurances,
asked how the industry could
be sure that a future chairman — noting
the industry’s troubles with some
of Genachowski’s predecessors —
would not see things diff erently and
not forbear those portions of Title II
common-carrier rules.

Genachowski said the FCC has never
gone back on forbearance decisions.
The subject came up after McSlarrow
said he and Genachowski had to talk
about the elephant in the room (and
even flashed a slide of an elephant
with Title II on its side). They did.

McSlarrow said the regulatory impact
of a change in a system that is relatively lightly regulated (under Title I
information-service rules) to one where
the outcome is unknown has raised a lot
of questions in the past few weeks.

“We did not let the elephant out of
the cage,” Genachowski responded. He
also said nothing that has happened
in the past few weeks has changed the
goals of the FCC. He said the BitTorrent
case damaged the legal underpinnings
of those goals, but not the goals themselves.
It damaged the foundation under
the house, he said, but suggested that the
house is still standing. “We had a problem
to solve,” he said, “and we are just at
the beginning.”

Genachowski said his goal was getting
back to a solid legal foundation that allows
the commission to do what it has
previously articulated, but not more.
The panelists rejected the do-nothing extreme
— “I think that was me,” McSlarrow
said — as well as the other extreme of
applying all 48 Title-II regulations to all
of broadband. He called his approach one
that has barriers to regulatory overreach
and creep, while still fixing the foundation
and letting the commission move
forward with the broadband plan.

McSlarrow asked whether it’s risky if
the government regulates operators but
not applications providers, like Google.
Genachowski said the issue is not about
Google, but the next Google or Amazon,
about speakers who don’t want to be censored
on the Net, and about consumers
connecting on the Internet.

“Our focus is on that,” he said.