House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the FCC’s action represents a floor, not a ceiling. “If the rule’s protections prove insufficient and consumers and innovation suffer, they will need to be strengthened, and I will vigorously support that effort,” he said in a statement.
But there also was criticism from the left. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., dismissed the safeguards as “inadequate” to protect consumers or preserve the free and open Internet. He’s particularly disappointed that the rules permit Internet toll lanes for companies willing to pay for faster transmissions—under limited circumstances—and decried what he sees as insufficient protections for mobile service.
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.., former chairman of a powerful House subcommittee that shapes telecom policy, had a mixed reaction, saying the new rules don’t contain everything he wanted. “Still, it does represent a step forward in the process of preserving the Internet as a vibrant marketplace.”
Several prominent watchdogs, including Free Press and Public Knowledge, complained that the agency missed its opportunity to fully preserve the Internet’s much-heralded openness. In an interview, Andrew Schwartzman, senior vice president and policy director for the Media Access Project, said the public-interest law firm is “very displeased” with the rules and might sue the FCC “over its failure to adequately cover wireless services” under the restrictions. He thinks there’s a “good chance” the entire plan will be overturned in court because the FCC “has used the wrong legal authority on which to base this.”
Addressing the concerns about mobile carriers, Genachowski emphasized to reporters that wireline and wireless services are different, with the latter facing unique congestion challenges that require more flexibility in managing traffic on networks.
Industry reaction, meanwhile, was mixed, with some key supporters of an earlier version of Genachowski’s plan—including AT&T and CTIA, the main wireless industry association—reserving final judgment until they’ve seen the fine print about the newly adopted rules.
“Though a final view must await a careful reading of the FCC’s order, we believe the Chairman’s compromise can provide . . . certainty while taking steps to preserve flexibility for investment and innovation,” AT&T Senior Executive Vice President Jim Cicconi said in a blog post. The U.S. Telecommunications Association said it opposes the expansion of regulatory powers while Comcast and Sprint offered tepid support.
The satellite television provider DISH Network and the Computer and Communications Industry Association said they wish the FCC had gone further, while the Information Technology Industry Council, whose members include Apple, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Intel, said the regulations would spur investment and innovation.
The FCC's two Democratic commissioners, Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn, made clear that they’re unhappy with several provisions, including the less stringent rules for wireless carriers.
“To be clear, we do not anchor ourselves on what I believe to be the best legal framework,” Copps told the packed audience in the FCC meeting room. “Nor have we crafted rules as strong as I would have liked. But with today’s action, we do nonetheless appear to steer ourselves back toward a better course.” In his vote, Copps concurred, which is the weakest form of approval. Clyburn approved in part and concurred in part, while Genachowski cast a yes vote.
The FCC met amid heavy police security both inside and outside the agency, as the debate over the future of the Internet drew national attention on the Drudge Report and elsewhere in the media during the run-up to the vote.
The agency’s two Republicans were blunt in their negative assessments of the effects of the new regulations, warning that the rules amount to government overreach, could dissuade investment and could encourage other countries to tighten their control over the Web. “Not only is today the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, but it marks one of the darkest days in recent FCC history,” Commissioner Robert McDowell, the agency’s senior GOP member, said in a lengthy denunciation. “The FCC is capable of better—today is not its finest hour.”
Echoing the sentiment, Meredith Attwell Baker said she fears that the government will now play “too big a role” in shaping tomorrow’s Internet. “The FCC literally has no power to act until and unless Congress gives it power.”