Netizens to FCC: Go away! Why cable modem regulation is causing concern

Summary:Updated at 3:45 PM PTThe Federal Communications Commission's trial balloon on regulating access to the Internet via cable modems is already drawing fire from Netizens.The FCC late Thursday released a report saying it may have grounds to regulate cable access to the Internet, under the most recent revision to the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Updated at 3:45 PM PT

The Federal Communications Commission's trial balloon on regulating access to the Internet via cable modems is already drawing fire from Netizens.

The FCC late Thursday released a report saying it may have grounds to regulate cable access to the Internet, under the most recent revision to the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

The paper does not recommend specific new laws, but could ultimately mean the FCC will impose sweeping changes in the business models of cable-based Internet access and content providers, including the possibility of new fees that could spur a cost hike for their services.



How far should the FCC go in regulating Net/cable services? Add your comments to the bottom of this page.




The report, which the FCC says is intended mainly to jump-start the public debate on Internet-over-cable systems, should do exactly that.

By putting out the paper, "they want to gauge reaction," said Craig J. Mathias, principal at The Farpoint Group in Ashland, Mass.

His reaction? Mathias doubts that the FCC really can impose regulations on Internet access from cable modems because "it's software, and the FCC doesn't regulate software."

The FCC's report, on the policy issues raised by the convergence of Internet and cable services, said that the distinction between heavily regulated basic telecommunications services and unregulated Internet services is becoming less clear. It raised questions how the agency should regulate such services.

Outlining scenarios
The report "represents the first comprehensive assessment of the regulatory status of Internet-based services delivered over cable systems," outlining scenarios for new laws governing Internet-based services delivered over cable systems, said Barbara Esbin, associate bureau chief of the FCC's Cable Services Bureau.

At least one observer thinks that the report may signal the FCC's true intent on the issue.

"This is fairly preliminary ... but from what I know of this FCC, odds are they'll try to impose something on the cable [providers]," said Peter Huber, a principal at Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd & Evans. Huber's clients include telephone companies.

Huber said that if cable modems become a serious rival to telephone wires for Internet access, the FCC will receive pressure to treat the two in similar fashion, which in all likelihood will mean adding regulations to the cable side.

"I think many people in the Internet community believe that cable has tremendous promise and is a real alternative. To the extent they're right about that, the Commission is in a delicate situation," he said.

Free from fees?
Indeed, according to the FCC report, the key question will be whether cable and telephony-based Internet services should continue to be free from the fees and interconnection requirements now borne by traditional telephone-service companies.

"Ultimately, the FCC may need to develop a new regulatory paradigm and language that fits the new global communications medium known as the Internet," the report says.

The FCC's report comes at a time when many in the Internet industry are questioning whether the FCC has outlived its usefulness.

The agency, formed to oversee the distribution of spectrum for television and radio broadcasts, has been accused of creating a regulatory maze that threatens to stifle the convergence of the Internet and television, a marriage viewed by many as the ultimate solution to the problem of scarce bandwidth.

Rep. Bill Tauzin (R.-La.) told ZDNN in an exclusive interview Thursday that he intends to push Congress to reform the FCC, in part because he fears that the FCC will try to regulate the Internet.

Updated at 3:45 PM PT

The Federal Communications Commission's trial balloon on regulating access to the Internet via cable modems is already drawing fire from Netizens.

The FCC late Thursday released a report saying it may have grounds to regulate cable access to the Internet, under the most recent revision to the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

The paper does not recommend specific new laws, but could ultimately mean the FCC will impose sweeping changes in the business models of cable-based Internet access and content providers, including the possibility of new fees that could spur a cost hike for their services.



How far should the FCC go in regulating Net/cable services? Add your comments to the bottom of this page.




The report, which the FCC says is intended mainly to jump-start the public debate on Internet-over-cable systems, should do exactly that.

By putting out the paper, "they want to gauge reaction," said Craig J. Mathias, principal at The Farpoint Group in Ashland, Mass.

His reaction? Mathias doubts that the FCC really can impose regulations on Internet access from cable modems because "it's software, and the FCC doesn't regulate software."

The FCC's report, on the policy issues raised by the convergence of Internet and cable services, said that the distinction between heavily regulated basic telecommunications services and unregulated Internet services is becoming less clear. It raised questions how the agency should regulate such services.

Outlining scenarios
The report "represents the first comprehensive assessment of the regulatory status of Internet-based services delivered over cable systems," outlining scenarios for new laws governing Internet-based services delivered over cable systems, said Barbara Esbin, associate bureau chief of the FCC's Cable Services Bureau.

At least one observer thinks that the report may signal the FCC's true intent on the issue.

"This is fairly preliminary ... but from what I know of this FCC, odds are they'll try to impose something on the cable [providers]," said Peter Huber, a principal at Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd & Evans. Huber's clients include telephone companies.

Huber said that if cable modems become a serious rival to telephone wires for Internet access, the FCC will receive pressure to treat the two in similar fashion, which in all likelihood will mean adding regulations to the cable side.

"I think many people in the Internet community believe that cable has tremendous promise and is a real alternative. To the extent they're right about that, the Commission is in a delicate situation," he said.

Free from fees?
Indeed, according to the FCC report, the key question will be whether cable and telephony-based Internet services should continue to be free from the fees and interconnection requirements now borne by traditional telephone-service companies.

"Ultimately, the FCC may need to develop a new regulatory paradigm and language that fits the new global communications medium known as the Internet," the report says.

The FCC's report comes at a time when many in the Internet industry are questioning whether the FCC has outlived its usefulness.

The agency, formed to oversee the distribution of spectrum for television and radio broadcasts, has been accused of creating a regulatory maze that threatens to stifle the convergence of the Internet and television, a marriage viewed by many as the ultimate solution to the problem of scarce bandwidth.

Rep. Bill Tauzin (R.-La.) told ZDNN in an exclusive interview Thursday that he intends to push Congress to reform the FCC, in part because he fears that the FCC will try to regulate the Internet.

Topics: Broadband

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.