For the past 20 months, the issue of broadband regulation has been on the front burner, crowding out most other communications policy initiatives. The debate has been particularly focused on net neutrality, the concept that requires equal treatment on a non-prioritized basis of all Internet traffic.
Content, according to net neutrality proponents, should move down the same multi-lane highway at the same speed whether the content is being downloaded from Internet giant Google, or from a three-page website maintained by a blogger in North Dakota.
Opponents of net neutrality argue that it only makes good business and network management sense that companies providing broadband access services be allowed to prioritize which traffic travels at a certain time given the finite capacity of broadband networks. The very nature of Internet protocol has always called for prioritizing traffic.
Lost in this ongoing argument, according to U.S. Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL), is the consideration of what net neutrality is supposed to mean for the minority community, particularly African Americans and their ability to raise capital and invest in media. Congressman Rush contends that the core communications policy advanced in this nation should address the issues of access to capital and media ownership.
Apparently unconvinced that net neutrality addresses these two issues, Rush views the political hot-bed issue as, “a solution seeking a problem.” He cautions the black community from jumping on a net neutrality bandwagon that may in the end leave the community “out on a limb.”
By the core definition of net neutrality, the senior statesman may be right. While net neutrality supporters have described the concept as a civil rights issue, the argument has never been offered that net neutrality will open up minority access to the capital necessary to buy media outlets and become more active participants in the communications landscape, beyond the provision of general content services.
In the meantime, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski wants to put in motion his National Broadband Plan (“NBP”), a ten-year initiative designed to roll out broadband services to all Americans. In an effort that has, perhaps, slowed the effective implementation of this plan to a snail’s pace, Chairman Genachowski has attempted to tie broadband network management requirements that stem from net neutrality to the NBP. As such, he has determined that in order to cement network management requirements to broadband providers, the FCC should reclassify broadband access as a telecommunications service, a classification supported neither by current law nor congressional intent.
Congressman Rush takes particular issue with the chairman’s apparent usurpation of Congress’ role to legislate. As he noted in exclusive comments to Politic365.com, “the FCC’s role is to implement not legislate.” Chairman Genachowski does not have the authority to reclassify broadband and Congress “won’t let him sit over there and legislate.“
Rush’s sentiments apparently reflect those of a number of members of Congress, including 111 Democrats and Republicans who asked the FCC last May to back off of broadband regulations. While talks between the FCC and representatives for and against net neutrality have broken off, Congress is reportedly moving ahead on legislation that would reconcile the debate.