Working-class and rural communities win victory in FCC ruling

A victory for equal access to the internet was scored recently with the decision of FCC chief Julius Genachowski to reassert the agency's authority to regulate the Internet.

FCC jurisdiction was questioned by a federal appeals court decision last month, which claimed it had overstepped its legal bounds in a case involving the cable giant Comcast, who had interfered with the file sharing applications of its customers. The FCC had ordered Comcast to stop such meddling. The company complied but later filed suit.

Genachowski, the agency's chairman, on May 5 said the agency would move forward with limited regulation of the Internet using telecommunication guidelines. The decision is seen as moderate "third way."

According to the Boston Globe the decision would "would reverse a Bush administration policy that classified Internet service providers, or ISPs, as information services, which are largely exempt from federal regulation. Instead, the agency will classify the Internet companies as telecommunications carriers, making them subject to the same regulations that apply to telephone companies."

This would include setting standards for pricing, procedures for complaints and insuring the security of personal information. It would also "require broadband providers to allow data to travel from the Internet to a subscriber's computer without meddling. However, it isn't planning to regulate material sent over the Internet, like email, online videos or games."

Unsurprisingly, Republicans and sections of big business including Verizon, AT&T and Comcast are dead set against the decision. Rep. John Boehner, R.-Ohio, called the decision a "government takeover of the Internet" and a "job-killing big government scheme."

Online companies, like Amazon, Google and Netflix supported the move. Paul Misener, Amazon vice president of global public policy, called the move a "step forward."

James Rucker of ColorofChange.org hailed the decision terming it "a major step towards keeping the Internet free and open." Rucker cited a major campaign undertaken by ColorofChange.org and others as making a difference. Earlier, Genachowski was reported to be leaning in another direction.

The struggle, however, is not over. The FCC in coming weeks will hold public hearings on the issue. The Washington Post writes: "Gigi Sohn, president of media public interest group Public Knowledge, said lobbying efforts will intensify in months ahead.

"Look, 10 days ago I came out of the chairman's office feeling very depressed about where things were going, but things changed," Sohn said. "This means supporters will have to drop everything else and keep campaigning for this. If this isn't a seminal moment for the Internet, I don't know what is."

The FCC chairman has enough votes on the commission to make the ruling. Legal challenges however are expected.

The Obama administration's national broadband strategy plans to deliver high-speed Internet access to at least 100 million homes by 2020.

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