Sometimes you just can’t please everybody—especially if you’re the FCC chairman. With the FCC’s Pseudo-Net-Neutrality-Lite order today, the agency has boldly gone where so many Washington policymakers have gone before: The Land of Universal Hatred. It’s what happens when a reasonable guy like Julius Genachowski tries to listen to all sides and craft policy that reeks of that dirty word “compromise.” In Washington, this willingness to bend is considered a good deed. And here no good deed goes unpunished.
So with the vote today, Genachowski is now getting it from both sides of the political spectrum. Liberals view him as a back-stabbing turncoat who has trampled the basic principles of net neutrality and, by extension, broken one of President Obama’s key campaign pledges to take on the special interests and protect Internet openness. Oh, the progressives have known net neutrality, they have worked with it… and you sir are no net neutrality! Meanwhile, Republicans are also miffed—but not for the same reasons, of course. For conservatives, the FCC’s action is yet another example of government intrusion into the private lives of multi-billion-dollar corporations. If they want to favor data traffic, so be it! They bought, built and paid for those wires! In fact, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY) took to the Senate floor on Tues to decry the Obama Administration’s REAL plan: A government takeover of the Internet, including death panels. OK, he didn’t say anything about death panels. But he and other Republicans don’t like this compromise any more than the liberals who think it’s a giveaway to big corporations. And in Washington, when both sides of the political spectrum hate something, it usually signals half-way decent policy.
The truth is that Genachowski could never win with this thing. Liberal and consumer groups want a world in which cable and telcos essentially can do nothing to manage traffic. That’s great for Google, but it only leads to higher prices for consumers and probably less overall investment in infrastructure. On the other hand, doing nothing probably would tempt at least some bad actors to do some nasty things at some point—such as “managing” traffic in ways that favored their own services and hamstrung other players that compete with incumbent services. The solution always had to lie somewhere in the middle. And while it makes sense that the apparent lack of opposition by cable and telco lobbyists to Genachowski’s plan gives net neutrality advocates much pause, the truth is that this was really the best deal the industry could get. The lack of vitriol doesn’t mean the cable or telco operators are happy about all this; they’re merely resigned to the fact that this is the best deal possible. Are there loopholes? Sure. But there’s also a complaint process. And Those Who Own the Wires and Of Whom We Do Not Speak certainly know that everyone—and we mean everyone—is watching them closely.
The FCC did the best it could here. Both sides of the political spectrum need to chill out and give this compromise a chance to work in the marketplace. With such scrutiny on big cable and telco ops, rest assured that any shenanigans will be quickly exposed and ultimately remedied. The Internet is safe. For now.
(Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX).