Based on remarks made last week by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, Internet users may have gotten a well-deserved holiday gift. The FCC agency ended months of speculation and uncertainty and outlined proposed guidelines to keep the Internet as open and vibrant as it’s always been. The proposals offer new protections to guarantee that web users can continue to go where they want on the web and enjoy the kinds of web-based applications (gaming, videoconferencing) that millions have grown accustomed to and of particular importance to users in undeserved communities, the FCC appears to ensure the continued growth and promise of the mobile Internet and wireless technologies by not tying that sector down by heavy federal regulations.
In Washington, you can tell a lot about a proposal by the kind of support it attracts. In this case, that support was widespread, as it should have been. President Obama’s technology czar hailed it as an important step in “continuing to advance the Internet as an engine of productivity growth and innovation.” Anyone concerned about job growth in the Internet world should have received much reassurance after learning that the 700,000-member telecommunications union, Communications Workers of America, endorsed the proposal after spending last summer warning policymakers on job losses that would inevitably ensue as a result of bad federal decision-making in the regulatory front.
At a time of nearly 10% unemployment, the impact on jobs clearly weighed heavily on the FCC’s decision. Communications jobs have median earnings nearly 50% higher than typical private-sector jobs and have proven relatively resilient to economic downturns. Meanwhile a number of national civil rights groups said they were encouraged about the prospect of finally closing the Digital Divide. Hispanics, along with African Americans are still well behind in the race to have ubiquitous broadband access. I am cautiously optimistic that the FCC proposal will keep its focus on this laudable goal but just as you can tell a lot about a proposal by its supporters, you can also tell a lot about it from those who howl in opposition. In this case, from the Free Press types, who seem to be using this as mostly as a scare tactic to manipulate its followers.
Case in point is apocalyptic and cult-like screams of “the end is near” by law professor Marvin Ammori on Huffington Post call the FCC’s proposal “meaningless” and describe apocalyptic dark days coming for the Internet’s future without more extreme rules. It’s almost amusing because Ammori essentially admits that his fears are all hypothetical. He uses hypothetical words like “could” and “may be” almost a dozen times in the blog. Meanwhile, it’s also worth a smile that a law professor such as Ammori never once acknowledges the 800 lb. legal gorilla in the net neutrality debate: that Internet users are already protected by (forgive the pun) a web of existing legal protections.
Without wanting to turn this into a law school seminar, there is little doubt that there are many current laws that protect against unfair competition, interference, antitrust behavior and other anti-consumer actions. These offer solid protection against the kinds of dire harm Prof. Ammori predicts. Strange that he doesn’t bother even a mention. Including the powerful protection our Constitution grants us under the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment.
So this is a positive time for the FCC and more importantly, for web users. The crowds are feeling positive, as they should, and the few complainers at Free Press and Color of Change will hopefully now begin to internalize that groups representing the interests of African Americans, Hispanics, people with disabilities, and the list goes on – of which have been weary of proposed net neutrality rules from the beginning – are very close to meeting their objectives of ensuring access and adoption for all Americans and protecting a vibrant and growing broadband industry. This argument has been the strongest since the beginning and will have the last word after all.
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