A top official at the Federal Trade Commission is warning that consumers will be hurt if a fellow agency, the Federal Communications Commission, pushes for strong net neutrality protections under Title II of the Communications Act.
It's the second time in as many weeks that the FTC has complained about the possible loss of authority under the FCC's net neutrality rules. Speaking on C-SPAN (and to The Washington Post), Republican FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen said that despite the "possibility" that Internet service providers would abuse their ability to control access to consumers, reclassifying broadband under Title II would put ISPs beyond the legal reach of the FTC, one of the nation's technology regulators.
"If an entity is a common carrier providing common carrier services, we can't bring actions against them," said Ohlhausen, appearing on "The Communicators." "If broadband service is reclassified as a common carrier service under Title II, I think that would seriously call into question the ability of the FTC to bring those kinds of actions. So my concern is really not so much for the FTC, but for the loss to consumers -- that they would lose out from having the FTC's active oversight."
Title II would give the FCC the latitude to regulate broadband providers in the same manner that it regulates telephone companies — a step that many net neutrality advocates say is necessary for protecting a level playing field for startups and small businesses online. Opponents say Title II can't accomplish what advocates want it to, and they've proposed lighter-touch regulations in response.
While the FTC isn't necessarily weighing in on how best to keep the Internet open, Ohlhausen's comments reflect a belief in antitrust law to police Internet providers. Whether that's enough — or if stronger, preemptive measures are necessary — is also the subject of some debate.
But underlying the ideological fight is more of the interagency politicking I wrote about last week. The FTC is interested in expanding its reach to cover more of the tech industry — and to the extent that regulating ISPs can help accomplish that, it's no surprise the agency would resist measures that would weaken its power.