Chairman Genachowski. Can You Hear Us Now?
News last week that Google and Verizon had reached consensus on a "legislative framework" for Net Neutrality was met with near universal disdain. Not only was the deal slammed by those inside and outside of Washington, it cratered from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.
The criticism didn't end with the Google-Verizon announcement. It extended to the Federal Communications Commission and its indecisive chairman, Julius Genachowski, who seems content to take a back seat to industry as companies like AT&T, Verizon and Google carve up the Internet for themselves.
Here's a survey of prominent editorials that were written to prod Genachowski to get back in the front seat (alongside President Obama), salvage his reputation and champion public policy that protects the Internet's democratic nature against corporate overlords:
New York Times, August 14:
"The F.C.C. has been searching for a way to ensure an open Internet since April ... In May, the commission proposed to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service, the right definition for this era. This process must be allowed to proceed."
Boston Globe, August 17:
"But at the moment, the choice appears to be between having major industries self-regulate their Internet behavior, and having the FCC regulate it. Given that the Google-Verizon proposal seems helpful primarily to Google and Verizon at the expense of an open, innovation-friendly Internet, it's time for the FCC to step in."
USA Today, August 18:
"Although the Verizon-Google proposal looks all but dead for now, it's the latest example of how the Internet is under assault by those who would erect tollbooths on what is now a freeway. It is also clear evidence of how the FCC needs to set up clear rules to prevent Internet service providers and device makers from controlling what content people can access."
San Jose Mercury News, August 12:
"The FCC has the power to change the situation, and this deal provides a catalyst. It can swiftly assert its authority to ensure open, nondiscriminatory high-speed Internet access for Americans for both wireless and wired services. We urge the commission to deliver on the president's promise. Don't let these giant galoots shaking hands in the corner distract you -- you have a job to do."
Seattle Times, August 13:
"Google's mission is doing evil by consolidating its already too-large share of the digital advertising market and picking up the scraps left behind by Verizon and other Internet service providers.It is time the FCC not worry about the interests of huge corporations and focus on good public policy instead. Kill the Google-Verizon scheme before it gains traction."
San Francisco Chronicle, August 10:
"...the Google-Verizon pact isn't even close. They need to go back to the drawing board and get support from consumer groups and Internet users instead of just broadband carriers and web giants. The FCC also needs to step in immediately, by reclassifying broadband under a section of the telecommunications code that's subject to more scrutiny - and therefore less ability to discriminate."
DailyFinance, August 17:
"Genachowski now faces a choice, and his legacy as chair rests on his decision," says Karr. "Will he be true to Internet users and restore the agency's power to protect an open and accessible Internet? Or will he buckle to pressure from the phone and cable companies and look the other way as they undermine the Internet's democratic nature?"
Seattle Times, August 12:
"The FCC must assert its regulatory prerogatives over broadband and seek clarifying authority where the rules need to be sorted out. The FCC is not an agent of the industries it oversees. President Obama and Chairman Genochowski need to remember whom they work for. The customers will not forget."
Rep. Jay Inslee, Daily Kos. August 16:
"This affects us all, and we all need to join together to stop it. We need everyone involved if we're going to stand up to corporations the size of Verizon and Google. This is the FCC's job right now, and their lack of strong enforcement is unacceptable. The free-flow of ideas and innovation online is in danger."
GigaOM, August 12:
"...the vacuum we now have in regulating high-speed Internet access has led these companies to divide things up among themselves. The FCC is being disintermediated, in effect. The Commission needs to act quickly to protect entrepreneurs, innovation, and consumers."
Ars Technica, August 18:
"Given the possibility that Republicans could retake the House, it looks unlikely that Congress will take any action in support of neutrality for the next few years.Over at the FCC, Genachowski has been slow to act, and has said little on the Google/Verizon proposal. But net neutrality rules are now quite clearly up to him."
So, will the media deluge penetrate the eighth floor offices of the FCC chair? Will Genachowski proceed with his earlier pledge to restore the agency's authority, promote universal broadband access and protect Net Neutrality? Or will he buckle to pressure from the phone and cable companies?
Either way, he is the swing vote for a majority of the commissioners. So the fate of the Internet -- as the most open and democratic media in history or as a closed network controlled by the few -- is now Genachowski's to determine.