FCC's 'third way' to regulate broadband

House Energy and Commerce Committee's Communications, Technology, and the Internet Subcommittee staff members hand out copies of the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan before a hearing in Washington, D.C.


Kai Ryssdal: OK, so we're going to do that thing right now that we kind of have to do from time to time. Throw a jargon-y phrase at you as a way to set up a story. Today it's "net neutrality." The idea that Internet service providers shouldn't be allowed to limit certain kinds of Web content. That everything that's passing through their data pipes ought to be treated the same way.

Last month, a federal appeals court ruled the Federal Communications Commission doesn't have the authority to regulate high-speed access, and so couldn't enforce that idea of net neutrality. Today the FCC said, oh, yeah we can. But we're going to be gentle about it.

From Washington, Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer explains.

Nancy Marshall Genzer: The FCC was forced to defend its regulatory turf last month. A federal court ruled the agency couldn't keep Comcast from treating different types of online content differently, like slowing down huge video files that clogged Comcast's network. Broadband services have been almost unregulated. But now, the FCC says it will treat Internet service providers more like phone companies. The FCC oversees phone companies' prices and billing practices. It says it won't go that far with broadband providers.

MARKHAM ERICKSON: I think this is a middle ground.

Markham Erickson heads the Open Internet Coalition. It represents consumers and Internet companies like Amazon. They say, now, the FCC will be able to expand broadband access nationwide.

ERICKSON: Right now there is no authority for the FCC to provide high-speed Internet access to underserved communities, low-income communities.

Network operators like Verizon and Comcast aren't so happy. They're worried the regulations will get tighter, scaring off investors for new broadband networks.

Mike Jude is a telecommunications analyst at Frost and Sullivan.

MIKE JUDE: It would be kind of premature to over-regulate because you might actually kill the golden goose here.

FCC commissioners still have to approve the changes. And lobbyists might have a thing or two to say.

RYAN RADIA: You think you've seen a lot of lobbying so far? You haven't seen nothing yet.

That's Ryan Radia of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Radia says the FCC's new authority could also be challenged in court.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.
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This story states that Comcast is "slowing down huge video files that clogged Comcast's network." This is, unfortunately, a gross distortion, probably provided by Comcast.

The vast majority of video files that clog the network are from commercial sites like Netflix, Youtube, and Hulu. Comcast has no intention of throttling them. They want to throttle Bittorrent because it allows us individual users, who are paying dearly for two-way access, to provide information to others as easily as we download it by exchanging files with each other. In fact, by dividing large files into segments that can be individually supplied by hundreds of individuals, Bittorrent prevents the net from being bogged down, and it is commonly used to distribute free operating systems like Linux that compete with windows. But Comcast wants to limit individual users to passive listeners to whatever the commercial providers put out. Bittorrent lets us, as individuals, also speak out, not just with Twitters, but with as much information as we wish to make available. Isn't this the original dram of the internet? What could be more important to a democracy?

When I see a internet provider begging people "Please don't switch to our service, we already don't have bandwidth for our existing customers", then I'll accept them discriminating on content. Until then, not so much.

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