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C'mon, Julius ... What Is The FCC Thinking?

The Federal Communications Commission seems to have again exceeded its charter with the recent Net neutrality decision. Even though the FCC pulled the trigger, I suppose Congress is guilty of aiding and abetting the agency's latest foible by not intervening, yet. Charged with "regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable," the agency continues to favor one industry player over another and shows, yet again, why Congress needs to step in and redefine the agency's limits.

Everyone seems to have a beef about what is wrong with the FCC's approach to keeping the Internet free, open and equally accessible to all, regardless of the service used to get there or destination. Here's mine: Everyone who has a pulse knows that mobile broadband is the fastest-growing market sector, and mobile computing will largely define the future of the Internet. So how do FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and his team proceed? They decide that the mobile sector is exempt from Net neutrality, and so position themselves as king makers to mobile carriers that will most certainly take advantage of their freedom from having to abide by the new rules. Oh, yeah: The new rules can't be seen yet because the commissioners voted on an incomplete package that will be reconciled in the weeks to come. How's that for lack of transparency? Uh, ladies and gentleman of the commission, what planet are you on? There are congressmen who say you have no right to even try to regulate this issue, and I stand in agreement with them.

My rant is not an indictment of Net neutrality but of the FCC itself. As an active Extra Class Amateur Radio operator, I have followed the goings on of the commission perhaps closer than the average IT writer, and have been dumbfounded at some of the decisions and overall conduct of this agency. Under previous Chairman Kevin Martin, the FCC became a cheerleader for a technology called Broadband over Powerline (BPL). Regardless of your philosophy or passion about leveraging the national electrical grid to deliver connectivity to the under-served, the FCC under Martin was accused and found guilty of turning a blind eye to overwhelming technical proof that BPL has several downsides. (The current National Broadband Plan all but leaves out BPL.) Martin himself has been accused by Congress of lack of transparency in the FCC and abusing its power related to cable industry regulation. The bottom line: Congress doubted that the FCC under Martin could fairly, and without prejudice, implement federal law that served the public interest.

For many, Martin's departure was long overdue, and Genechowski's appointment gave fresh hope that the FCC might stop being a lobbyist unto itself for different market sectors and players. During his early days on the job, Chairman Genechowski publicly recognized Martin's anti-consumer tenure and declared that he would focus on "consumers, competition and innovation." His background and public talks reflect that Genechowski is savvy in the significance of mobile networks. He has also pledged to make the FCC a model for excellence in government. Add it all up, and the FCC's new leader seemed poised to move the agency closer to its core mission for the benefit of the public that it is supposed to serve.

Unfortunately, Genechowski has instead sold out the mobile broadband consumer. The FCC's Net neutrality action leaves a giant loophole for broadband carriers to exploit, and I predict that they will because the potential profits are just too big to ignore. Though Genechowski is more personable and open than Martin ever was, his commission is going down a bad road that Martin helped to pave. The Internet is far too important for five individuals to decide its fate, and the current commission has now shown that it is no more impartial than Martin's Commission was. These intelligent public servants must realize that mobile carriers are part of the Internet, and thus it can only be construed that they are laying the groundwork for mobile carriers' agendas by excluding them from Net neutrality requirements. This is the very sort of behavior that brought discredit to the agency in the past. I can only hope that congress steps in, as I like using my mobile devices any way that I please under the current terms of my service plan. I'm not looking forward to what's coming if the recent vote is allowed to shape my connectivity while adding costs.