Could FCC Set Dangerous Precedent?

Stephen Yagielowicz
LOS ANGELES — The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is poised to deliver a ruling that could cause concern for the opponents of government regulation of private computer networks.

According to the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI), without even a relevant rule in place, the FCC is about to assert the authority to dictate how a private broadband company exercises control over its network.

The issue surrounds an impending Commission action against Comcast's network management practices over the ISP's limiting of access to BitTorrent sites, which are frequently used for illegal file trading and slow down Internet access for other users.

"Those who favor government control of technology, and our lives, notched a significant victory — they have finally managed to gain the beginnings of real regulatory control over the Internet," Director of the IPI Center for Technology Freedom, Bartlett Cleland, said. "Certainly this will be part of the legacy of the Bush administration — the administration that had government seize control of and regulate the Internet."

IPI filed comments with the FCC in February that stated that "private network companies must have the liberty to manage their networks and experiment with their own business models and no regulatory prohibition against network management practices should be considered."

"This intrusion into the network management practices of a broadband provider may prove to be one of the worst mistakes in communications policy history," Cleland said. "The notion that the FCC or government should have any authority to punish broadband companies without a rule in place is frightening."

According to Cleland, the issue is not simply a debate about the reach of the FCC, but about government intrusion and control over private property.

"Private property is not, and should not be, operated for the good of anyone other than the owners — organizations that do not satisfy their customers will lose in the marketplace as others move in to take advantage of the opportunity," said Cleland.

"For too long, our government — and those who favor government intrusion and hegemony — have rationalized invasive control of our communications systems, including now government dictated rules on systems operations and acceptable use of others property," Cleland added. "It is time to get real and get government — and especially this activist FCC — out of our innovation, our property and our lives."

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