Leaders of the Internet's grassroots community have made it clear that inaction by the FCC is not an option when it comes to keeping the Web open and accessible.
In a series of posts and statements, bloggers for DailyKos, FireDogLake, OpenLeft.com, theAmerican Prospectand other influential sites have expressed dismay that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski would consider abandoning the agency's role as watchdog over the Internet.
Bloggers were joined by online advocacy groups including MoveOn, CredoAction, ColorofChange.org, SavetheInternet.com and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which are urging the FCC chair not to abdicate his responsibility to stop corporations from picking and choosing how users access information over the Internet.
AWashington Post story indicated that Genachowski was considering nothing to stop phone and cable companies from blocking access to websites and services. The chairman is weighing the agency's options in the aftermath of a federal appeals court decision that undercut the FCC's authority to protect Internet openness and ensure universal access.
According to thePost, Genachowski is "leaning toward keeping the current regulatory framework for broadband services" -- the one option that leaves the communications commission toothless in its oversight of 21st century communications.
This is a bad idea, writes Fred von Lohman of online civil liberties group EFF. "There is little chance future network neutrality rules could withstand a court challenge if the FCC rests on the same discredited argument that the court just rejected."
If thePost's reporting is correct, Genachowski is "simply hanging onto whatever authority the courts and the law have left to the FCC, and try to hold the telecoms accountable that way," writes Nancy Scola of theAmerican Prospect. "If that's indeed the FCC's plan, it's kinda laughable. It's like switching to a knife in a gun fight you're already losing."
Not only is the future of the Internet at stake, but also Genachowski's legacy at the FCC. He came into office based on his commitment to protect the open Internet. President Obama is a staunch supporter of Net Neutrality, who pledged to voters that he would appoint leaders to the FCC that shared his beliefs - a conviction Genachowski seemed to share.
Genachowski can put this conviction into action by simply reclassifying broadband as a "telecommunications service." The Bush-era FCC, under intense lobbying from big telecom companies, had removed this classification leaving the FCC with very limited powers to stop providers from blocking Internet users.
"If AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast prefer to have the current regulatory framework maintained, it's because it makes for an FCC that has weak authority over broadband, and net neutrality could be the cost," writes Joan McCarter of DailyKos.
The Obama administration and FCC now face a choice, writes Jason Rosenbaum at FireDogLake:
"They can do nothing [and] accept Bush's handicapping and an unregulated Internet, or they can 'reclassify' broadband as a telecommunications service -- which the Supreme Court said was in their power -- fixing a Bush mistake and returning the Internet to the regulatory framework Congress intended."
"Protecting Net Neutrality had been perhaps the Obama administration's most progressive accomplishment," writes Chris Bowers of OpenLeft.com. "However, this point of light in the Obama administration may be fading."
Chairman Genachowski is now squarely in the crosshairs of the netroots community. Should he cave to corporate special interest and sell out Net Neutrality, it will become the signature action of a failed Obama appointee.
In an age when corporations can spend unlimited sums to influence policy and campaigns, the netroots must speak out or risk losing the only open communications platform we have left. We can't endure another broken promise from Washington. We must draw the line at Net Neutrality.
Timothy Karr is the author of MediaCitizen
, a weblog about the future of America's media. He is the campaign director of Free Press. From September 2003 through February 2005, Karr was executive director of MediaChannel.org and Media for Democracy.