The FCC’s Heavy Hand

Federal regulators should not be telling Internet service providers how to run their businesses.

The Washington Post
Monday, September 28, 2009

IN A SPEECH at the Brookings Institution last week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski promised that his agency’s plan for regulating Internet service providers (ISPs) will be “fair, transparent, fact-based and data-driven.”

That’s nice. But Mr. Genachowski failed to convincingly answer the most important question of all: Is this intervention necessary?

Mr. Genachowski claims to have seen “breaks and cracks” in the Internet that threaten to change the “fundamental architecture of openness.” He and other proponents of federal involvement cite a handful of cases they say prove that, left to their own devices, ISPs such as Comcast Corp. and AT&T will choke the free flow of information and technology. One example alluded to by the chairman: Comcast’s blocking an application by BitTorrent that would allow peer-to-peer video sharing. Yet that conflict was ultimately resolved by the two companies — without FCC intervention — after Comcast’s alleged bad behavior was exposed by a blogger.

Mr. Genachowski offered two proposals to combat alleged ISP misconduct. One should be embraced, the other shelved.

Mr. Genachowski is right to insist that ISPs be candid with the agency and the public about network management practices. Such disclosures are necessary, Mr. Genachowski asserted correctly, to “give consumers the confidence of knowing that they’re getting the service they’ve paid for” and “enable innovators to make their offerings work effectively over the Internet.” Transparency should go a long way toward allaying the concerns of those who fear ISP manipulation of markets. It also puts in doubt the need for Mr. Genachowski’s second, dubious offering.

This editorial continues at The Washington Post.

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