How the FCC Can Get its Groove Back

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Yesterday, Public Knowledge filed comments (PDF) / comments (Web) on the FCC’s “Third Way” proposal.  Essentially, we asked the FCC to reverse its past mistake and recognize that the broadband market has come a long way since 2002.

Until recently, the FCC thought that it already had figured out how to deal with broadband.  However, since the court in the Comcast decision told them that they were wrong, the FCC has been working on a new way to adapt to modern reality.

It is important to remember that the FCC is not claiming any power over what is happening on the Internet.  Instead, the FCC is just trying to make sure that everyone can get to the Internet.  Just as the FCC spends a lot of time making sure that when you place a call from your Verizon phone to your friend on their AT&T phone the call is actually connected, the FCC is trying to make sure that when you try to access Hulu from your Comcast Internet connection you actually get it.  Even though ISPs claim that there could never be a problem with Internet connectivity, their track record is far from encouraging on that front.

Although I encourage you to take a look at our full comments, where we explain our position in more detail, at its core what we told the FCC is actually fairly straightforward.  Eight years ago, when the FCC first looked at broadband Internet access (and remember, eight years ago was a long time ago in Internet time – many people didn’t have broadband) they decided that ISPs were selling a service made up of two equally important parts.  The first part was connecting people to the Internet.  The second part (which, again, the FCC thought was equally important to consumers) was a suite of related services like email and web hosting.

Fast forward to today.  It is true that, as a Comcast customer, in addition to a connection to the Internet I get a free comcast.net email address, and maybe some space to put up a web page or store some files.  However I, like a lot of people, have no idea what my comcast.net email address is (not to mention what its password could possibly be).  In fact, in order to write this post I had to double check to see if Comcast even offered web hosting or file storage, because as a Comcast customer I don’t really care.  If I want email, I will go to Gmail, or Yahoo, or Hushmail, or whatever. The same goes for web hosting or online storage.

Of course, consumers understand this to be the case.  ISPs are not offering two equally important services.  They are offering to connect you to the Internet, and throw in some freebies because it is easy.  ISPs don’t advertise that they have an awesome email interface, or that their blog hosting is #1.  Instead, they advertise what people care about: that they provide a fast way to access the Internet.

That’s what we asked the FCC to recognize.  When people buy Internet access, they care about accessing the Internet, just like when people buy phone service they care about calling people.  Our filing made it clear that this Internet access service falls clearly under the FCC’s authority.  We told the FCC to recognize that reality and to make sure that it had the power to prevent ISPs from monkeying around with Internet connectivity, and to be able to step in when something goes wrong.

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