Michael Copps, one of two Democrats on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and frequently at odds with FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell, said Thursday the agency is pursuing an “ill-advised” policy for the future of the Internet, favoring closed networks over its traditional open nature.
According to Copps, “This Internet may be dying. It may be dying because entrenched interests are positioning themselves to control the Internet’s choke-points and they are lobbying the FCC to aid and abet them.”
Speaking at the New American Foundation in Washington, Copps said the Internet’s success has been built on freedom, access and wide dispersal of power, but that policy framework is being threatened by the FCC’s “warped vision” that open networks should be replaced by the power to dictate who controls the Internet.
“From its inception, the Internet was designed, as those present during the course of its creation will tell you, to prevent government or a corporation or anyone else from controlling it. It was designed to defeat discrimination against users, ideas and technologies,” Copps said. “This freedom has always been at the heart of what the Internet community and its creators celebrate. Anyone can access the Internet, with any kind of computer, for any type of application, and read or say pretty much what they want. No one can corner control of the Internet for their own limited purposes.”
But, Copps added, “The founders’ vision of the Internet is being exchanged for a constricted and distorted view of technology development, entrepreneurship and consumer preferences. For its part, the Commission has already made serious regulatory miscalculations that could endanger the freedom and lifeblood of the Internet sooner rather than later.”
Copps has opposed a number of Powell initiatives, including FCC decisions to not force cable operators to open their Internet systems to competitors and the recent Triennial Report and Order that allows incumbent telecoms to keep competitors out of the broadband market.
On Monday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled the FCC should not have exempted cable Internet service providers from the FCC’s competition rules, a decision hailed by Internet service providers (ISPS) and consumer groups, who have long argued that open cable networks would increase competition.
“Some argue that because of the ruling the FCC will not rush forward in other areas until the issue is resolved in the courts. I have no such expectation,” Copps said. “(The decision) does not go, because it could not go, beyond cable to encompass DSL and any other technology that could act as a choke-point and give a few people too much control over the Internet.”
Saying the FCC is “short changing” its public interest responsibilities, Copps said a “tectonic” policy shift is underway at the agency.
“The Commission strikes me as on course to replace open networks with closed systems. It is permitting, even encouraging, competition to wither in the face of centralization,” he said.
If the FCC continues on this policy path, Copps said, “We will end by undermining the basic end-to-end principle that made the Internet great. Control will have been wrested away from Internet users and given back to those interests that control the bottlenecks, just like AT&T controlled them not so long ago. Broadband should be another step in the path of Internet growth. It may fall far short of its transformative potential.”
Copps’ remarks brought immediate praise from the the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), an industry trade group.
“ITAA shares Commissioner Copps’ concern that this FCC is moving towards adopting a ‘network gatekeeper’ Internet broadband business model, limiting the ability of Internet consumers to freely connect with content and services of their own choosing. The Copps speech is an important statement on the future of the Internet,” said ITAA President Harris Miller.