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In my Tech at Night series at RedState we’ve been waiting on the FCC to tell us what they intend to do in December about Net Neutrality. Rumors say that the FCC may come to a compromise on the issue. Instead of declaring war on industry and attempting to take over the Internet under Title II, Chairman Julius Genachowski may try to pass a set of regulations similar to the draft bill Henry Waxman put out that I supported.
One of the provisions of that bill was a sunset clause, forcing us all to reevaluate the industry as it develops, instead of passing a set of regulations that immediately become obsolete and possibly even harmful. Verizon is now pushing for that same sunset to apply to the FCC compromise.
Despite the fact that I wish the FCC would take a lighter touch with wireless ISPs going forward, I think the sunset would be a bad idea for the FCC compromise. It gives Republicans no benefit, but it gives Free Press and the radicals possibly a second bite at the apple that we can’t afford to give them.
A Title I-based FCC compromise would be a relative win for everyone. It would represent a victory of the mainstream over the fringe. So the last thing we want to do is to risk another Title II-type catastrophe, and that’s precisely what a sunset provision for Net Neutrality will do.
Consider that in a few years we should be well into the deployment of the next generation of wireless Internet access. WiMax and LTE could be broadly available a few years, and combined with services like MiFi, we could see a great many people depending on wireless access for all of their Internet use. In short, the stakes will be much higher in a few years when it comes to regulating wireless Internet access.
So while protecting an open market of free competition for wireless Internet access will be more important later than it is now, kicking the can down the road gives no benefit to us, the supporters of competition and innovation. Under what scenario are we better off? Should a Republican win the 2012 Presidential election and a free market FCC take over, nothing the FCC does now will bind that future FCC. We could improve the rules right away without a sunset clause. However should Barack Obama win re-election, and possibly keep at least one house of the Congress on his coattails, a Net Neutrality sunset clause will be a fresh “crisis” inspiring broad, aggressive action by the progressive fringe.
A sunset clause under a second term Obama Presidency could result in a brand new Title II fight, only the President would not have to worry about looking moderate in order to get re-elected. He would be free to let the Michael Copps faction of his party do what it wanted, and impose broad, unprecedented regulation of the Internet, including price and content controls. For the children.
Elections have consequences. And while the 2010 election will have fresh consequences, the 2008 election still counts as well. Barack Obama is the President, and he controls the executive branch. As long as that is the case, at times we are going to have to compromise with him in order to prevent him from being seduced by the far left fringe. This is a time when we all benefit from him triangulating, and passing a compromise that may not be ideal, but will leave the far left a lot less happy than the rest of us are.
So I support a Waxman-style compromise from the FCC without a sunset provision. No new crises. Put the issue to bed while protecting the Internet from stifling regulation as well as we possibly can.