McDowell Re-Affirms Opposition to Net Neutrality Codification

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell made it clear Thursday that he remains opposed to the substantive underpinnings of the FCC Democratic majority's proposal to expand and codify network neutrality principles.

Speaking at an Institute For Policy Communications Summit in Washington, McDowell pointed out that while he had voted to initiate the rulemaking, he has never voted against doing so in his tenure, saying it was important to be part of the process. But he also emphasized that he had dissented from the proposals themselves, and said he hoped all the commissioners minds "can be changed purely on the basis of the facts and the law."

McDowell pointed out that a 2007 FCC study concluded there was no systematic broadband market failure, and the same year the Federal Trade Commission concluded unanimously that no market failure to the degree that warranted new regulations existed. He pointed out that the net neutrality NPRM contained no market analysis backing up the proposed need for dramatic change in policy.

More recently, though, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz weiged in in support of the network neutrality proposal in a letter to the Washington Post.

He said the few incidents of "troublesome actions"--Comcast's BitTorrent management/blocking is arguably the highest profile--have been resolved and, given the number of Internet communications occurring every day, asked whether that was enough evidence to prove the Internet is breaking and needs more regulation.

He said broadband has grown, as has competition, since the FCC decided, and the Supreme Court agreed, that cable modem service should be redefined as an information service free of the mandatory open access regulations applied to telecommunications services.

He echoed warnings about whether the government would be the best way to fix any problems even if they did surface. "The evolution away from government intervention has been the most important ingredient in the Internet's success," he said. Other echoes included that any such rules should apply to applications as well as networks, and that the country must be careful not to send a signal internationally that the government is regulating the Internet.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has countered that the proposal should be focused on the network "gatekeepers," and said at the meeting launching the NPRM that no other country should read this as government control of the Internet, instead saying it was an effort to preserve its openness and innovation.

McDowell gave a "wing and a prayer" assessment of the FCC's creation of a national broadband deployment plan, due to Congress in February. The plan is for how to get broadband to places where it isn't, or there isn't enough of it, and getting more people to use it in places where it is. "In some ways, we are trying to land an airplane on a distant foggy runway without having all of the needed navigation gear," he said. That is because while the plan is due in less than a hundred days, congressionally-mandated broadband mapping that will identify where and what broadband service is being offered doesn't have to be finished until February 2011, a year after the plan is due. "Welcome to Washington," he said.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.