The US regulator, the FCC, seemingly running scared from making a decision on net neutrality and a two-speed Internet where access and content is controlled by telcos and content providers, has just extended by 55 days the time in which interested parties can make observations and recommendations - thus putting off any decison until after the November elections when the political landscape of the US is likely to have tilted in favour of the corporations. Martyn Warwick reports.
As those many millions of us who have been guilty of the over-hasty sending of intemperate emails will know only too well, by the time you have hit the "send" key it's already far too late to call anything back. The message has gone at somewhere approaching two-thirds of light speed and that's that. Or, as the poet Omar Khayyam rather more elegantly put it, "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on. Nor all thy piety nor all thy wit, can cancel half a line of it."
Yup, the modern world of electronic communications operates at very high speed, however, the same cannot be said of the lumbering bureaucratic organisations whose job it is, all too reactively and in a generally laggardly manner, to regulate the industry.
Take as a case in point the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US. Head honcho, Julius Genachowski, continues to take his leisurely time cogitating the pros and cons of the proposal that his organisation should act to re-regulate broadband access under comparatively ancient but decidedly stringent parameters that were designed to control telephony services in the pre-Internet era.
Rather than making what, by any standards, will be a difficult and far-reaching decision, Mr. Genachowski has opted for the old bureaucrat's gambit and has extended the time that interested parties can make observations and submissions to the FCC. After all decision deferred is a good excuse for doing nothing.
What we are talking about here is of course the thorny and devisive issue of net neutrality and the concept that all Web traffic should be subject to equal treatment.
The extension of the consultative process has been granted after the US media reported that the FCC, in the face of a combined onslaught of opposition from vested interests on the part of the US carriers, has capitulated and given up on its attempts to classify broadband networks as "common carriers" under the terms of Title 2 of the US Communications Act.
The FCC was stung by the accusations and, showing that if sufficiently provoked it can, in extremis, move faster than a geriatric tortoise, immediately issued a statement denying that it has abandoned the idea.
"Absolutely not", said an official, "All options remain on the table."
Nonetheless, the FCC has announced that it is seeking further comment on the issue as to whether it should regulate to prevent ISPs from favouring (or being forced by carriers and cablecos to favour) some types of Web traffic over others.
The FCC spokesperson added, "Staff is busy reviewing and analysing an extensive record of more than 50,000 comments in the broadband framework proceeding, which only closed a few weeks ago. Securing a solid legal foundation for broadband policy is too important an issue to rush."
However, such prevarication and obfuscation serves only to allow carrier and other vested interests (spearheaded by the unholy alliance of Verizon and Google) to redouble their assault on the way the Web now works and with November's mid-term elections now looming, and Republicans strongly favoured to win a lot of seats, the FCC will find it even more difficult to fight-off orchestrated attempts to turn the internet into a two-three, four and who-knows what speed network favouring one sort of traffic and content over another.
The answer is evident: a decision to re-regulate broadband networks under Title 2 would give more control over how ISPs operate and the FCC should act now but time-is slipping away. The organisation has extended its consultation period by a further 55 days, thus neatly obviating the need to make a decision until after the November election results are in and I'm afraid the indecision will cost us all dear in the end.
Meanwhile the agency is also prevaricating over whether or not net-neutrality rules should apply to wireless networks. The telcos say they shouldn't, consumers and consumer organisations say they should. The debate also rages over the notion of the introduction of paid, priority Internet delivery and so-called "special services" and whilst the FCC debates the issues with all the urgency with which the medieval church used to argue about the number of angels that could dance on the head of a pin, the Internet world as we know it is going to hell in a handcart.
By subscribing to the Spanish concept of "manana" but without paying any acknowledgement of the driving urgency that use of the word implies (not) the FCC stands accused of trying to duck a difficult issue.
As Derek Turner, the research director of the US organisation Free Press says, “This looks like the FCC kicking the can down the road. Its job is to protect the public interest. That includes making the really hard decisions that may anger some powerful industry incumbents. The FCC seems too scared to do that."
It certainly does.
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