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.

TEXT OF STORY

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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