Internet Companies To Fight FCC Rule Changes

It promises to be a long, hot summer in Washington if you work for the Federal Communications Commission — or a major Internet company. The FCC wants to impose tougher regulations on broadband providers. Those companies don't like the idea and are gearing up to fight it.

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Speaking of the Internet, the Federal Communications Commission wants to impose tougher regulations on major Internet companies. Those companies don't like the idea, and they're gearing up to fight it, as Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE: So far, the FCC's Internet policy hasn't been quite as controversial as, say, the Obama administration's health care policy. But this TV ad is looking to change that.

(Soundbite of political advertisement)

Unidentified Woman: First, it was the banks, then insurance, then the car companies, then health care. Now, Washington wants to spend billions to take over the Internet.

ROSE: The ad is airing on cable TV and got prominent play in several markets with heated special elections last week. On the screen, a line of dominoes falls in slow motion. The not-so-subtle message is that the FCC is making a mistake by seeking greater authority over the companies that deliver broadband Internet access to millions of Americans.

Unidentified Woman: Tell Congress: Stop the Washington takeover. Don't regulate the Internet.

Mr. ART BRODSKY (Communications Director, Public Knowledge): It's a scare tactic, plain and simple.

ROSE: Art Brodsky is communications director for Public Knowledge, a nonprofit that supports tougher FCC regulation of broadband providers. Brodsky says the commission only wants to regulate the pipes that provide access to the Internet, not the content flowing through them.

Mr. BRODSKY: The government is not taking over the Internet. What the government is doing is engaging in traditional consumer protection, traditional regulation of a telecommunications service that will get people to the Internet.

ROSE: That distinction between guaranteeing access to the wires and regulating what's carried on them has been part of communications law since the 1930s. When FCC officials announced the new broadband policy earlier this month, they specifically said they do not want to regulate content. I mentioned this to Phil Kerpen, vice president of Americans for Prosperity, the free market organization that paid for the takeover ad.

Are you overstating the case a little bit when you argue that they're looking for a takeover of the Internet?

Mr. PHIL KERPEN (Vice President, Americans for Prosperity): I don't think we are. I think that it's important to make a distinction between what regulators say they intend to do and what the actual consequences would be.

ROSE: Kerpen argues that greater regulation of telecom and cable companies would scare off Wall Street investors and that would make it harder for those companies, including AT&T, which has given money to Americans for Prosperity, to build new networks.

Mr. KERPEN: If we go down the path of deterring private investment and have, as a result, much greater taxpayer investment, those dollars will come with strings attached, and people will want to limit indecency and so on and so forth. And you can see how, at some point in the future, it could lead to content controls, as well, despite the fact that its current proponents don't want to do that.

ROSE: Not everyone thinks the new broadband rules will stifle private investment. Take Markham Erickson, who directs the Open Internet Coalition, a group that includes Google, Amazon and other content creators.

Mr. MARKHAM ERICKSON (Executive Director, Open Internet Coalition): These type of rules have existed for many, many years, and, in fact, we saw an incredible amount of investment into the infrastructure that helps make the Internet run.

ROSE: Erickson is referring to the period in the 1990s and early 2000s when the FCC regulated Internet access more like it does telephone service, and he supports the commission's efforts to go back to that approach.

Mr. ERICKSON: This is not regulating the Internet or a government takeover of anything. We're talking about basic rules of the road that allow the commission to protect consumers' access to applications and content, and indeed to let the marketplace flourish.

ROSE: Erickson thinks the FCC is taking a moderate approach to broadband regulation, but that analysis isn't quite as catchy as a phrase like government takeover.

For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.

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