The Federal Communications Commission today (Nov. 3) put off again a decision on the mammoth AT&T takeover of BellSouth. There were, of course, no public explanations. But they Commission did take up the issue of broadband over power lines (BPL), and in doing so FCC Commissioner Michael Copps and Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein gave us what appears to be an inside look at the deliberations into Net Neutrality.
The official action the Commission took was to classify BPL as an “information service.” This is the same regulatory pit into which the FCC cast cable modem service and telephone-company DSL. Instead of having the consumer protections of the Communications Act, we are left instead with a nebulous set of promises under the generic overall authority of the FCC – the so-called Title I services.
Copps and Adelstein grudgingly consented to the regulatory classification. But they made it clear, Copps particularly, that the FCC was going into uncharted territory that had continued grave implications for consumers.
In his statement, Copps said that “consigning broadband services to an indeterminate Title I regulatory limbo is no substitute for a genuine national broadband strategy.”
He added: “Just relegating something to Title I doesn't provide the kind of certainty that either business or consumers are entitled to if broadband over power line is going to be the success we want it to be. And reclassification by itself gets us no closer to the kind of high speed broadband infrastructure this nation needs to be competitive in world markets and to expand economic and social opportunity here at home.”
The FCC's strategy until now has done nothing to improve the U.S.'s standing among other countries in the provision of broadband, Copps said.
Adelstein focused his statement on the specific issues surrounding consumer protection, including protection of billing information and related items. He said a Notice of Inquiry has been pending for a year.
These are the types of issues that should govern the Commission as it decides what conditions to be put onto the Net Neutrality piece of the merger. They will serve as a proxy until the real issue gets put on the table.