Former FCC Chairman Powell: 'Sky will not fall' as a result of Comcast case

Michael Powell, a Republcian who led the agency until 2005, said broadband providers have already "committed themselves to open Internet principles and were running their business consistent with their consumers' wishes for access to content and applications of their choosing, as well as the freedom to connect Internet devices to their connections."


Consequently, Powell stressed the "courts will forever question FCC efforts to stretch its authority beyond the areas it is expressly authorized to regulate.

"Rather than continue to try and force round pegs into square holes, the FCC should seek legal clarity from Congress as to the proper bounds of its authority," Powell wrote in a blog post for Broadband for America, a collection of telecommunication groups. 

A federal court ruled Tuesday that the FCC was wrong to order Comcast to stop blocking users' access to BitTorrent, a file-sharing service. Comcast said at the time it needed to limit access to ensure its broadband network was not overburdened by users who consume too much content.

However, the decision is widely regarded as an obstacle that chiefly prevents FCC from implementing rules on net neutrality long advocated by the Obama administration.

Ultimately, Powell's take is not a surprise: It was in part under his direction that the commission began classifying Internet as a Title I service, which a D.C. Court of Appeals ruled unanimously was out of the FCC's legal reach.

While Powell has told reporters he still supports "light" net neutrality regulations, he has nonetheless predicted efforts to reclassify broadband through the agency's rulemaking process would be an "unadulterated disaster," especially if telecommunication companies follow through on their threats to challenge such a move in court.

However, the FCC under current Chairman Julius Genachowski seems to be considering that very route. 

Each of the commission's Democratic members issued statements hours after Tuesday's ruling stressing re-classification is necessary to ensure open Internet access across broadband providers.

"The only way the commission can make lemonade out of this lemon of a decision is to do now what should have been done years ago: treat broadband as the telecommunications service that it is," said Michael J. Copps, the senior Democratic member of the panel. "We should straighten this broadband classification mess out before the first day of summer."

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn later noted the court's decision "does not change the importance of our goal."

"Indeed, we now have the kind of guidance that will enable us to develop the most effective and legally sound rules of the road to preserve Internet openness and to achieve other important goals set forth in the National Broadband Plan," she said in a statement.