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Ex-FCC attorney says Internet plan won't achieve broadband goals

Matt Hamblen | Feb. 17, 2015
'Affordable, abundant' broadband should be the ultimate goal, says Blair Levin

In each case, the FCC had "no legal authority to act and was successful both times. That is not an argument against Title II [reclassification], but merely an historical irony," Levin said. "We are debating giving the FCC legal authority [under Title II] when the FCC has managed without it. I'd say the Title II change needs to be done, but it's just not all that needs to be done."

In the first of the two commonly-mentioned cases, the FCC in 2005 found that Madison River Communications blocked the use of Vonage Voice over IP (VoIP) services to some Madison River customers. Madison River paid a $15,000 fine and agreed not to block VoIP services on its network.

In the second case, the FCC said in 2008 that Comcast was arbitrarily throttling BitTorrent traffic, in violation of FCC principals, and ordered it to stop.

In 2010, the FCC under Chairman Julius Genachowski released an Open Internet Order to prohibit blocking and to protect Internet openness. As the FCC notes on its website, the no-blocking rules in the Order were vacated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in early 2014. That Appeals court decision triggered much of the current debate.

While Levin contended the FCC has been successful in the past in regulating net neutrality, there's little question Wheeler and many others want to assert the FCC's authority to preserve neutrality in light of the Court of Appeals decision. Even Levin agrees the Wheeler approach is needed, though more need to be done.

"The FCC needs to articulate a deployment agenda for broadband in combination with the states and cities," Levin said. "Some of that was in the Broadband Plan. Some goals have been set, but we have to have a strategy and tactics to get to affordable and abundant broadband and it's not clear what those are."

While some of the strategies and tactics might come after next week's vote, they could take a while.

Meanwhile, Levin said the real excitement in broadband deployments is already happening, especially in cities like the Kansas City area where city officials on the Kansas and Missouri sides of the city are working in partnership with Google Fiber. In other locales, Google Fiber has spurred interest in providing high-speed Internet by fiber optic competitors like AT&T and Century Link.

As an example, North Carolina communities are getting proposals from Google and AT&T and other companies, which means "it may end being the most competitive fiber center in North America," Levin said.

Also, the organization Levin runs, Gig.U., is devoted to bring high-speed Internet to areas around college campuses like the UC2B project at the University of Illinois and nearby communities of Champaign and Urbana. "It's going to take a lot of local leadership to get affordable abundance of broadband and that's most important," Levin said. "It will be a lot of work in the trenches."


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