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Why the FCC can't do its job on broadband access

Tuesday, August 31, 2010; A16

The Aug. 26 editorial "An open, innovative Internet" wrongly stated that a court decided the Federal Communications Commission has no authority over Internet service providers. What the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said was that the section (Title I) of the communications statute cited by agency lawyers did not support the FCC ruling against Comcast's blocking of BitTorrent. This was a predictable outcome of FCC actions during the Bush administration that consciously moved broadband Internet access from Title II, which would have supported the commission's authority, to a murky place that invited court challenge.

This was a major flip-flop from the historic -- and successful -- approach of forbidding discrimination on our communications networks. Now is the time to put broadband back under Title II, where it belongs -- and under which many smaller companies continue to offer Internet access to the public.

Nor is this debate about regulating the Internet. It's about whether consumers or a few huge Internet service providers will control consumers' online experiences. The Verizon-Google plan that The Post endorsed creates a two-tiered Internet at the expense of the open Internet we now have, almost completely excludes wireless and transforms the FCC from what is supposed to be a consumer protection agency into an agent of big business. I thought we'd had enough of that. To expect big telecom and cable duopolies to protect consumers while a toothless agency stands quietly by is to expect what never was nor will be.

Michael J. Copps, Washington

The writer is a member of the Federal Communications Commission.

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