Just as the FCC moved its most recent and controversial initiative to the public-comment phase, the agency began what will likely be an even more contentious process to reallocate the nation’s broadcast spectrum. With the goal of providing more spectrum for broadband internet services, the Commission proposed that television broadcasters relinquish a portion of the frequencies they control in exchange for a share of the proceeds the FCC would receive when it auctioned of the spectrum. Considering the expense broadcasters incurred preparing for this past summer’s digital television transition, the organizations were understandably resistant to the proposal. Further complicating the proposal, it is unclear how much spectrum the FCC is seeking.
On Thursday, the FCC approved its net neutrality rules, giving way to 60 days of comments from the public, after which the Commission will release final regulations. Given the intense opposition from companies such as AT&T, the rules will likely face legal challenges before taking effect, and Congress could intervene as well. Progress is progress though.
As the FCC prepares regulations to ensure unfettered access to the internet, AT&T and Time Warner are weighing the possibility of charging customers based on their usage, as in the days of dial-up access. The providers contend that if the FCC limits their ability to control the traffic on their networks, they will have no choice but to meter their customers’ access. Already, some broadband carriers are experimenting with metered access, while others have imposed extremely high limits that affect only a minority of users. After having unfettered access for many years, however, either option currently being explored could cause consumers to reduce their use of online services. Largely for psychological reasons, users may avoid data-intensive services for fear of exceeding their allowance, even if the allowance is so high as to not pose a problem. Some may argue that metered access will stifle the growth of the internet, but its widespread use makes that unlikely. Instead, it seems that metered access will become little more than a negotiating point in the FCC’s deliberations on net neutrality. After all, as The Wall Street Journal reports, the amount of data consumed by the average internet user would cost $20 under AT&T’s plan.
Julius Genachowski, the recently-appointed chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has moved to ensure that all legal content has equal access to the internet, a decision that has angered some major technology companies while at the same time being hailed by consumer advocates. As The Wall Street Journal reports, the Chairman’s proposal, which is making its way through the agency in draft form, would shift the focus of so-called “net-neutrality” rules from protecting consumer rights to limiting what actions internet service providers can take with regard to content carried on their networks. Presently, the FCC has only policies to guide internet providers regarding net neutrality, but no formal rules have been established. The Chairman’s move to formalize net-neutrality rules comes after Congress repeatedly failed to address the issue and just as AT&T alleges that Google Voice violates the current guidelines.