Page 2 of 2   <      

Fast Forward: For now, there's little to do about a bad Internet provider

So if the court ruling has sent the refs off the field, and if the closing of the American broadband market isn't about to be reversed, now what?

At one extreme, we could do nothing. The FCC could publicly scold Internet providers; hopefully, the pain of bad publicity would force them to correct their conduct. Presumably, we can use this tactic on Wall Street next.

Some firms would rather see the Federal Trade Commission take over policing Internet providers, enforcing its rules against false advertising and abuse of market power. But when companies get to shop for a regulator, they have the funny habit of picking the most lenient one.

A third option would be for Congress to pass a law giving the FCC specific net-neutrality authority. You'd just need Congress to pass one bill . . . despite deep partisan divides . . . in an election year.

The hand grenade on the conference table is "Title II reclassification." Here, the FCC could -- without a permission slip from Congress -- decide it erred in 2005 when it classified Internet providers as "information services" to end line sharing.

It would then put them under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, the "common carriers" section requiring nondiscriminatory conduct by phone services, and exempt them from its voice-specific provisions.

But this might not be as straightforward as advocates like the digital-liberties groups Public Knowledge and Free Press suggest. Large, well-connected telecom firms would howl in protest -- not least because a Title II reclassification could allow a renewal of line-sharing rules -- and would probably challenge the move in court.

All these factors don't help a quick resolution. We have a situation full of lawyerly jargon, with risks that can't be dramatized by putting a sick kid on a stage. I hope you like your Internet provider, because you may be stuck with it for a while.

Living with technology, or trying to? Read more at http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward.


<       2

© 2010 The Washington Post Company