Thursday, 14 April 2011

Power to the People

I was amused to read last Tuesday (6th April, 2010) of the Federal Appeals Court's decision, which overturned a judgment against Comcast. Not that I have anything to do with Comcast, you understand; it's more of a personal, anti-authority thing. Somehow, it appeals to me that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has effectively been told it has no right to tell ISPs how to manage their networks.

The essence of this ruling is surely a clear statement that the FCC, although it has delegated (by Congress) regulatory authority over the provision of telecommunications services, does not have the same authority over Internet services. In fact, it has absolutely no authority in that regard.

Some reports have suggested this will be the end of the FCC's quest for broadband and net-neutrality regulation, because it has no jurisdiction over ISPs. I feel this is unlikely as an institution like the FCC isn't going to just curl up and expire; no sir, it's going to fight back!

What I also found interesting was the idea that, in order to gain control over ISPs as well as Telcos, the FCC might attempt to reclassify Internet access as a telecommunications service. Should that happen; prepare for years of legal wrangling and no short term outcome other than more smug attorneys.

Should we (in the United Kingdom in addition to the United States) care?
I believe it should (always and ever) come down to a test of 'what is best for the consumer'. I suggest that the only lobby group worth listening to is the consumer. Maybe all politicians should take heed of that? It sounds so good, I'll say it again, "The only lobby group worth listening to is the consumer".

Why is that true? It's true, because Parliament or Congress is elected to represent the interests of the people (at least in a Democracy) and should make it their business to do just that. Consumers need legal protection from harmful and anticompetitive conduct and assurances that they will be treated fairly, in terms of clear and unambiguous billing, for example.

The problem is that the majority of lobbyists (be it to Congress in Washington, Parliament in Westminster or the European Commission in Brussels) represent vested interests. By which I mean vendor interests and significantly influential vendors at that. Of course, the vendors' viewpoint needs to be aired, however that should be done more openly. Congressional working groups, for example, could invite vendor submissions - and share them in public.

My final thought is that this should be enshrined in law, such that the only groups legally entitled to lobby shall be those representing the consumer. Power to the people!

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