“It would deeply undermine the FCC’s ability to ensure universal Internet access for rural, low-income and disabled Americans,” Silver said. “It will undermine the FCC’s ability to protect consumers from price-gouging and invasions of privacy.
Industry leaders once thought Genachowski, a longtime net neutrality supporter, would attempt to enforce open Internet using his agency’s rulemaking process. His effort to reclassify broadband as a “telecommunications service,” an area over which the FCC has statutory jurisdiction, would have returned to the commission its power to regulate broadband providers after a federal court found current law stipulated otherwise.
But top telecommunication and broadband companies that oppose net neutrality have balked at that idea, stressing the FCC has no legal authority to strip broadband of its current designation as an “information service,” which the commission cannot directly regulate. Verizon has even threatened to challenge any coming reclassification effort aggressively in court.
However, net neutrality supporters have implored Genachowski to call those companies’ bluff and pursue reclassification in spite of any legal threats. Many of those proponents called on the agency to take its fight to the legal trenches in public comments submitted to the FCC as part of its net neutrality rule review, which it initiated long before a federal court negated its ability to enforce open Internet.
The FCC told The Hill on Tuesday a decision has not yet been made on reclassification. But if the commission opts not to travel that route, it could leave the highly partisan matter to a divided Congress ahead of a tough midterm election cycle.
Those adverse conditions could ultimately keep any net neutrality legislation from the floor, even though a handful of top Democrats have signaled they would support such a bill. The likelihood that net neutrality would encounter extremely difficult political obstacles prompted Public Knowledge on Monday to question Genachowski’s logic.
“We obviously prefer that the chairman take a path that will protect consumers and deliver some results,” said spokesman Art Brodsky.
“You’re not going to count on Congress to get on this anytime soon, and meanwhile, consumers aren’t left with any protection,” he said, noting 250 House bills remain stalled in the Senate, creating a backlog that makes it difficult for net neutrality to advance to the floor this year.
Meanwhile, Free Press’s director on Monday implored the agency to reconsider its expected call and take stronger action against broadband providers.
“This decision facing the FCC chairman is about more than one single issue, or even a broken promise to the American people,” Silver said. “If the FCC fails to stand with the public, it will be the end of the Internet as we know it.”