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On Net Neutrality: The FCC’s Credibility Problem

The government and the FCC have a serious credibility problem on its hands in the Network Neutrality debate.

The Hill newspaper broke a story this week about the ethics violation of the White House Technology adviser who also happens to be a former Google executive. U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Andrew McLaughlin, Google’s former head of global public policy was admonished for exchanging emails with his former employer on topics within the scope of his official duties.

Are we surprised that among the topics discussed in the emails of concern was Network Neutrality? In one  email about net neutrality, ” Google Vice President Vint Cerf asked, “Has  there been so much flack from the Hill that you guys feel a need to back  away?” to which McLaughlin replied, “Don’t be silly. No one’s backed away from anything.”

Sadly, this revelation explains clearly from top to bottom why the FCC is going out of its way to impose network neutrality and doing so adamantly without properly investigating and thoroughly vetting the issue, neither considering all sides, perspectives and consequences of the proposed rules. The agency is even pushing hard to defy the parameters and limitations of its Congressional authority.  At first blush, many thought it was the White House pulling the strings. There has been a lot of finger wagging directed at the Obama administration on this issue, especially because the President built his campaign on limiting lobbying activity and curtailing  influence from external and private influence into the decision-making of  the government.

Maybe more importantly, this ethics breach is a clear instance that in the network neutrality debate, the government, and particularly the FCC, has already picked the winners and losers among the private sector stakeholders. Are the FCC and the White more interested in promoting a rule that Google feels is important for it and its bottom line than in protecting the interest of the public?

One only need look to the fact that the Net Neutrality debate has totally eclipsed every other policy issue and concern at the FCC.  For  example, not a week had even passed after the FCC closed its Open Internet  proceeding and the staff was probably still in the process of siphoning  through comments that we all got news that Chairman Genachowski had gathered his staff to come up with a way around the limitations of the  D.C. Circuit Comcast decision.

Hence, we have this “Third Approach” which is a sinking ship, a distraction and a waste of time, if you ask me.  The approach is undoubtedly going to be challenged and I fear the FCC knows this. That is the sad part. Rather than explore alternatives to accomplishing the same goals it sought to advance via net neutrality, the FCC is insisting on gambling with the public’s time, and pushing us aside in the meantime while it does so.

At a time when we are facing a significant broadband adoption gap, challenged with emergency and public safety issues, spectrum allocation concerns, small and minority business  development challenges and a plethora of other imminent and pressing issues,  the FCC is consumed with finding a way to undercut the very clear  directives of the DC Circuit.

All this time, many assumed the Democratic Commissioners were forcing Net Neutrality to appease their boss at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.   But as it is said “everything in the dark will come to the light”, we all needed to set our sights farther across the Great Plains and focus on Mountain View, California for the puppetmaster.

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