Reclaiming Broadband Rights: The Way Forward for the FCC

Tuesday's court ruling, which found that the Federal Communications Commission does not have jurisdiction over how internet providers regulate their service, has sent the FCC's national broadband plan back to the drawing board.

The plan, which was released last month, sought to provide broadband access to more of the country at better rates. Some of my criticisms of the plan around the time of its release were that it did not go far enough in ensuring wider access and that it risked hurting niche media outlets already threatened by larger competitors. Despite these flaws, the plan was one of the greatest opportunities to remedy the unequal distribution of information services that continues to exclude historically marginalized groups from the digital revolution. In an effort to appease lawmakers and the industry, however, the FCC's recommendations for combating the digital divide used language that made it seem their proposals were "optional."

Apparently, Comcast didn't want to go along with the FCC's option. Instead, they took the issue to a federal appeals court, which found that under current law, the agency cannot stop service providers from blocking sites. According to the court, broadband companies can decide to withhold content and services and also charge however much for those services they want. As The Economist's Democracy in America blog points out, this "rent-seeking behavior" could consolidate power in the hands of the providers and the bigger sites that can afford to pay for special services (and Comcast loves consolidation).

More importantly, the court's decision throws the FCC's entire plan into question, as the agency may no longer have the legal reach to implement its recommendations. As Computerworld's Grant Gross outlines, there are a number of ways forward for the FCC in implementing their plan for net neutrality, and one of these ways would be to redefine the place of broadband in the spectrum of telecommunications services. In light of Tuesday's ruling, we desperately need to update the laws so that they reflect the reality of the digital age: that broadband providers are telecommunications providers and should be regulated as such. According to the Wall Street Journal, "For broadband providers, the worst outcome would be if the FCC decided to classify broadband networks as common carriers under Title 2 of the Communications Act, which allows the federal government to control pricing and access as it does with landline telephone service." In order to make the broadband companies provide internet service at fair rates to less lucrative markets, "the FCC would essentially have to say it made a mistake when it deregulated Internet lines in 2002." It certainly did.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, user Jonathunder.

How to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable? Build global partnerships.

Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.

Susan Silbermann, Global President of Pfizer Vaccines, looks on as a health care worker administers a vaccine in Rwanda. Photo: Courtesy of Pfizer.
  • Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
  • Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
  • Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists claim the Bible is written in code that predicts future events

The controversy around the Torah codes gets a new life.

Michael Drosnin
Surprising Science
  • Mathematicians claim to see a predictive pattern in the ancient Torah texts.
  • The code is revealed by a method found with special computer software.
  • Some events described by reading the code took place after the code was written.
Keep reading Show less

Juice is terrible for children. Why do we keep giving it to them?

A glass of juice has as much sugar, ounce for ounce, as a full-calorie soda. And those vitamins do almost nothing.

Pixabay user Stocksnap

Quick: think back to childhood (if you've reached the scary clown you've gone too far). What did your parents or guardians give you to keep you quiet? If you're anything like most parents, it was juice. But here's the thing: juice is bad for you. 

Keep reading Show less

Orangutans exhibit awareness of the past

Orangutans join humans and bees in a very exclusive club

(Eugene Sim/Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • Orangutan mothers wait to sound a danger alarm to avoid tipping off predators to their location
  • It took a couple of researchers crawling around the Sumatran jungle to discover the phenomenon
  • This ability may come from a common ancestor
Keep reading Show less