Government Take-Over of Internet Begins

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

The first step in a process that will lead to more federal oversight of the Internet began last Thursday when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to begin the process of reclassifying the Web as a “telecommunications service” rather than an “information service” in order to broaden its authority over it. is reporting that the move, sought by both President Barack Obama and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, would give the feds greater control over the Web and enable them to circumvent federal laws that call for an Internet that is “unfettered by Federal or State regulation.”

Currently, the FCC only has “ancillary” authority over the Web, meaning it can regulate the Internet only in the process of regulating another service that it has direct authority over, such as television or cable. However, reclassifying the Net as a telecommunications service would substantially broaden the government’s regulatory authority over it, giving it authority to enforce universal service requirements and making providers pay into a federal universal service fund that would be used to provide communications services to poor areas

After Thursday’s narrow 3-2 vote in favor of the move, the FCC will begin the mandatory public comment period, where it will solicit input from private companies and citizens about whether it should reclassify the Internet and how it should do it.
As CNS reports, the FCC is considering three options. First, it can decide not to reclassify the Internet at all, continuing to treat it as an information service. Second, it can completely reclassify the Internet as a telecommunications service, granting the Commission broad powers over it. Third, it could seek a middle ground, reclassifying the Internet as a telecom service but exempting Internet providers from most of the regulations associated with other telecommunications services.

This “third way,” favored by Genachowski, means the government will still have the authority to heavily regulate the Internet but claims the FCC would exercise “forbearance,” a regulatory doctrine whereby the government promises not use its regulatory authority in most cases.

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