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Seeking Federal recognition for the Open Internet

Originally published 5 November 2010 at 08:10 hrs.

Late yesterday, a relatively diverse, and hopefully significant, group of advocates for the Open Internet filed reply comments in the FCC’s proceeding “Further inquiry into two under-developed issues in the Open Internet Proceeding.” Credit goes to Seth Johnson for making this happen. Let me tell you why I joined in this filing both on my own behalf and on behalf of netBlazr.

A fundamental problem with communications regulation today is a logical result of its history.  Services like traditional telephony, mobile telephony, cable TV, satellite TV and dispatch radio sprang up independently as complete vertically integrated systems and were regulated as such.  The Internet is fundamentally different. The Internet provides a platform which can be used to deliver almost any communications service and yet the platform itself runs over any communications technology.  No more vertical integration!

Yet the FCC’s enabling legislation (the Communications Act of 1934) and almost all subsequent regulations are based on discrete services. What’s more, this can’t change rapidly as regulations generate whole eco-systems of vested interests (businesses, regulators, lobbyists, etc.) who seek only minor revisions (typically in their favor!).

This is a problem, but there is a potential breakthrough in the FCC’s current proceeding.  I quote from our filing:

In these comments, we wish to highlight one principle which this NPRM exhibits, which represents a key advance in how the open Internet issue is articulated in policy-making channels.This principle is embodied in your treatment of the Internet as distinct from managed or specialized services.

For the first time, there is an opening to get regulatory recognition that an Open Internet is different from telephony, different from the TV part of “triple play” and different from a mobile data service that gives access to just selected Internet applications.  This is far less than we deserve, but it would be a good first step.

Thank you Seth, and thank you to the others, more distinguished than I, who have joined in this filing.