Next week at its open meeting, the FCC will begin a proceeding on its proposed "Third Way" approach to broadband oversight. The agency is expected to issue a Notice of Inquiry and to seek public comment on the classification of broadband transmission - consumers' connection to the Internet via companies like AT&T and Comcast.
The Commission's authority over broadband networks was dramatically limited by a recent court case brought by Comcast, the nation's largest broadband provider. In order to establish the solid legal footing needed to carry out broadband policymaking, including its National Broadband Plan, the FCC proposes to modernize its oversight of broadband services by classifying broadband transmission as a "telecommunications service" under the Communications Act.
While we are eager to participate in this proceeding and we welcome a lively discussion on the best way for the FCC to restore its light-touch authority over broadband networks, we caution that policymakers must beware of the constant fear-mongering that has crept into this debate. A string of misinformation campaigns has muddied the discussion on reclassification -- and can be traced back to incumbent phone and cable companies, their intense lobbying efforts, and their Astroturf groups.
But this is a pivotal moment in Internet policymaking. And the FCC should not allow an industry that opposes even minimal government oversight and consumer protections to cloud the debate regarding the Commission's options in shaping broadband policy for the 21st century. Rather, the debate should be grounded in our communications law and our historical approach to two-way communications networks like today's broadband infrastructure. That debate must begin with accurate facts about both the FCC's proposal and the technological and market realities of today's broadband world. And it must include reasoned discussion regarding which policies best serve the public interest as a whole.
In response to the mud-slinging by the telecommunications industry and the noise generated by its friends in Congress, Free Press released a new issue brief yesterday that sets the record straight on the classification debate. The new report, The Truth About the Third Way: Separating Fact from Fiction in the FCC Reclassification Debate, examines the top ten myths obscuring reasoned discussion of the FCC's Third Way.
Fiction: The FCC's Third Way proposal is a distraction from implementing the National Broadband Plan to bring Internet access to all Americans.
Fact: The FCC's ability to carry out key elements of its National Broadband Plan depends on the agency re-establishing its light-touch authority over broadband networks. Without a solid legal foundation, the FCC's efforts to connect rural and low-income Americans, require basic disclosures regarding the prices and terms of service for broadband, and strengthen public safety networks could all be reversed in the coming years.
Fiction: Placing broadband services under the authority of the FCC would stifle investment in broadband networks.
Fact: The Commission's proposed move would merely preserve the status quo. In fact, numerous top telecommunications executives have told investors that the FCC's plan will not affect any planned investments in their networks.
Fiction: Only Congress can act to restore the FCC's authority over broadband networks.
Fact: The Communications Act - the foundation of telecommunications law - gives the FCC the flexibility to determine how to protect consumers. Furthermore, in 2005, a landmark Supreme Court case made clear that the FCC has the power to designate broadband Internet access services as either an integrated information service or as two separate services, a connectivity service that constitutes a telecommunications service and a suite of information services that runs over that connectivity. The FCC proposes to adopt the latter approach in its Third Way proceeding.
Fiction: The FCC's approach will cause regulatory uncertainty and instability.
Fact: Recognizing that broadband Internet access contains a telecommunications service is the best way to eliminate existing regulatory uncertainty and instability in the broadband marketplace. Moving forward with broadband policy without taking this step could cause serious problems for consumers, the Commission, and all companies in the Internet ecosystem. It would leave FCC policies vulnerable to piecemeal litigation and prolong uncertainty for many years to come.
Fiction: The FCC's move would lead to job losses in the telecommunications sector.
Fact: Even as revenues have increased, the telecommunications sector's job-loss trend has accelerated. In fact, industry statements have indicated that job cuts will continue - but with no mention of FCC action as the culprit.
Read about the other five myths in the full issue brief here: http://www.freepress.net/files/The_Truth_About_the_Third_Way.pdf