Today, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski received a strong message from Congress: Do whatever it takes to protect the Internet and put the FCC's authority over Internet providers like Comcast and AT&T back on firm legal ground.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, sent a letter to Genachowski giving him the green light to "reclassify" broadband under Title II of the Telecommunications Act -- the only way the FCC can protect an open Internet and get high-speed service to low income and rural America.
A federal appeals court recently ruled that, because of decisions made by the Bush-era FCC, the agency doesn't have the authority to regulate broadband. But Genachowski does have the power to reverse the old decisions that put the Obama administration's entire technology agenda in jeopardy.
The question is whether the chairman has the political courage to make such a move. The signs aren't entirely good: The congressional letter comes just days after a Washington Post article reported Genachowski may be siding with the nation's largest cable and phone companies by not moving forward with reclassification.
Since that article was published, people across the nation -- from Silicon Valley companies to activists to law professors -- have mobilized, blogged, written or called the FCC and White House demanding that the FCC make good on President Obama's promises of Net Neutrality and universal Internet. In recent weeks, nearly 250,000 people have told Genachowski they support reclassification, and phones in the chairman's office are reportedly ringing off the hook.
Waxman and Rockefeller's letter sends a clear message that reclassification isn't a "radical" request, as the phone and cable companies claim. It is a policy approach similar to what is already in place in Canada and Europe, and it is the reason that those nations are way ahead of the United States in Internet speed, adoption and affordability. Bottom line: The lofty goals of the FCC's National Broadband Plan are DOA unless Genachowski stands up against the cable and phone industry and reclassifies broadband.
In his inaugural speech, President Obama said, "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works."
The FCC chairman's decision will reflect whether the president's speech was just rhetoric or real substance. Today, all eyes are on Julius Genachowski.