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August 3, 2009 8:09 AM

A Disconnect Between Congress and the FCC on Net Neutrality

Uh oh, I may be making a mountain out of a molehill but I can't help worrying that there's a significant disconnect between the FCC and Congress on one of the most important issues related to broadband policy.

Last Thursday the FCC released its schedule for a series of intensive workshops to be held intended to bring FCC staffers and the public at large up-to-speed on a wide range of broadband-related issues.

Last Friday Congress introduced its latest attempt at crafting a net neutrality bill (more in depth thoughts on this to come).

And yet, what's missing from the FCC's roster of workshops? Any particular emphasis on net neutrality and/or the related topics surrounding open networks.

First off, I can't understand why the FCC wouldn't seem to have decided to devote any of its workshops to what is arguably the most controversial issue in the world of broadband policy.

Secondly, this omission makes even less sense in light of Congress introducing a new bill. It makes me wonder if the FCC knew this bill was brewing. If they didn't know, then why didn't they know? I'd think Congress would want to at least be consulting the FCC's expertise on matters like this. If they did know, then why aren't they devoting any time to analyze the issue?

Now I fully recognize that this may not be an oversight but instead could simply be proper protocol. I know that there are some limits as to what the FCC can do in terms of trying to lobby Congress.

But at the same time, a frank discussion about how open broadband networks should be is so incredibly crucial to the overall broadband policy debate because it touches on so many other issues that I don't see how we can afford to ignore it.

And despite any old limitations between the FCC and Congress, I think the time has come to start taking a more holistic approach to crafting broadband policy. We can no longer afford to have Congress crafting policies it doesn't fully understand and then punting them to the relevant agencies in the hopes they're able to figure things out on their own.

Instead we should be engaging all affected parties around the same table as we're crafting policies surrounding net neutrality so that we can try and craft the best possible kinds of policies, those which protect the public's interest without trampling on the ability of private industry to manage their networks in the real world and make money doing it.

Now, I'm not yet passing judgment in this article on this particular piece of net neutrality legislation (that's coming in a later post), but I do have to call out Congress and the FCC and ask that they try to get on the same page.

To Congress, if somehow the FCC didn't know you were working on this bill then I'd encourage you to do more to make them aware and seek out their guidance in the future.

And to the FCC, I'm sure you all want your workshops to be as productive as possible and may be worried about taking on the most complicated issues like net neutrality, but we can't put our heads in the sand about this topic, especially not at a time when specific legislation is about to start being considered. So let's add a workshop about openness in networks and take this contentious broadband policy by the horns.

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