Friday, April 09, 2010

FCC/Comcast fallout continues, Digital Britain on hiatus

The ramifications of Tuesday's court ruling (available here) against the FCC and in favour of Comcast continue to be the subject of much speculation. All the coverage I've seen neglects to mention that Comcast's actions were much more significant than simply slowing traffic, as covered in my previous post. More too in this report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), who have also published a more detailed report on detecting packet injection, available here.

An article in the Wall Street Journal includes a useful timeline, while the BBC suggest that the National Broadband Plan is "in flux" as a result of the ruling, citing an FCC blog as listing some of the 200 recommendations made under the plan that are now open to question. These include efforts "aimed at accelerating broadband access and adoption in rural America; connecting low-income Americans, Native American communities, and Americans with disabilities".

This is rather disingenuous, as the same blog posting earlier states that "the Comcast/BitTorrent opinion has no effect at all on most of the Plan"! By way of explanation:
"Many of the recommendations for the FCC itself involve matters over which the Commission has an “express statutory delegation of authority.” These include critical projects such as making spectrum available for broadband uses, improving the efficiency of wireless systems, bolstering the use of broadband in schools, improving coordination with Native American governments to promote broadband, collecting better broadband data, unleashing competition and innovation in smart video devices, and developing common standards for public safety networks."
The post closes by admitting that "the Commission must have a sound legal basis for implementing each of these recommendations. We are assessing the implications of yesterday’s decision for each one, to ensure that the Commission has adequate authority to execute the mission laid out in the Plan." The FT (Comcast faces tough regulation from FCC), in an article focusing on Comcast’s bid to take over NBC Universal, suggests that Tuesday's decision will force the FCC to look more widely at the tools it has at its disposal to drive the plan forward, now that its preferred approach has been discredited in court:
"With its hands tied given the court ruling, people who are closely following the deal say that the FCC will be looking at the Comcast deal as an opportunity to impose conditions on the largest industry presence. They say that the biggest question now is whether the FCC would impose general net neutrality principles that Comcast could easily agree, or whether it would impose more onerous network management conditions that it would be likely to resist."
For Comcast, a case of be careful what you wish for perhaps? Interesting commentary from Internet Evolution, on whether the Internet needs to be regulated or not:
"Up to this point, the 'Net has moved forward quite rapidly and, most would agree, neutrally, without much (if any) regulation by governments. It could be argued that all that is required for net neutrality is an industry standard of openness about services themselves rather than a set of complex regulations."
In response, the FCC has extended the deadline for responses to its notice of proposed rulemaking on preserving an open Internet until 26th April 2010, and is pressing ahead with the Plan, announcing a Broadband Action Agenda for implementing its key recommendations.  The FCC seems undeterred by the Comcast ruling and is keen to put some distance between it and the original dispute:
“The court decision earlier this week does not change our broadband policy goals, or the ultimate authority of the FCC to act to achieve those goals. The court did not question the FCC’s goals; it merely invalidated one technical, legal mechanism for broadband policy chosen by prior Commissions."
The intention to revise the Universal Service Fund (USF), which was brought into question by the ruling, remains at the forefront of this:
"Carry out a once-in-a-generation transformation of the Universal Service Fund over the next ten years to support broadband service. This will be achieved by converting existing subsidy mechanisms over time from "POTS" (plain old telephone service) to broadband, without increasing the size of the fund over the current baseline projection."
A detailed implementation schedule is available here. Returning to the UK, the BBC describe the angry response to the Digital Economy Bill  being rushed through Parliament, and report that "the next Parliament will be able to study the most contentious aspects of the bill before they are enacted and there will be an extended period of public consultation." So still a small window of opportunity to encourage some common sense perhaps? JANET(UK)'s Andrew Cormack also sounds a hopeful note on his blog, citing a statement by Lord Young showing there is an increasing appreciation of the Bill's, sorry, Act's potential impact on “libraries, universities and other educational establishments”.

The FT (Digital Britain plans fall by the wayside) also offers a summary of the 50p Landline Levy's demise, likely replacement and possible resurrection:
"If the Conservatives win the election, they would use a portion of the BBC licence fee to pay for the expansion of superfast broadband infrastructure outside urban areas. If Labour wins, the party would go back to its original plans and introduce the telephone tax."
All in all, a week which reminds me of these wise words:
"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."
...though I would argue there's even more at stake in this context, as broadband has the potential to revolutionise lives and society in a way that potentially eclipses even an achievement as undeniably fantastic as the first moon landing?

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