The FCC’s 2010 Hollywood Blockbuster Extravaganza

Published December 20, 2010

An epic of Hollywood proportions has been playing out in Washington DC this year, with the climax due next week when the Federal Communications Commission convenes for its final 2010 monthly meeting.

This epic traverses several cinematic genres and includes equal parts spaghetti Western, horror, science fiction, political intrigue, courtroom drama, and pugilism—this hodgepodge of a film inevitably will make no one happy and possesses minimal entertainment value.

In Act One, our intrepid hero—let’s call him Julius Genachowski, former Harvard Law School chum of the U.S. President—rises from relative obscurity to head a shadowy government agency with no publicly known purpose. Seeking to claim a scintilla of relevance as head of this group—we’ll call it the FCC—Genachowski adopts the principles and strategies of his former law school buddies, Ivy League elitists, and another FCC commissioner, the crusty and crafty Michael J. Copps. The sought-after “McGuffin,” as director Alfred Hitchcock would call it, in this case is the concept popularly known as network neutrality.

With his powerful allies and ideological commitment, Genachowski meets resistance in an encounter with the DC Federal Appeals Court, which swats down the FCC for attempting to impose net neutrality regulations on Comcast.

Act Two: Defeated but still determined, Genachowski reanimates the net neutrality corpse by pouring his “Third Way” tonic down its throat. The zombie rises to frighten away investment in the Internet, scare away job-creation in the industry, and panic a majority of the public largely content with the progress of the Internet. At Genachowski’s command, the zombie finds the tomb of Title II telecommunications policy drafted in 1934, and attempts to wrap the Internet in its shroud.

Act Three: Hoping to create a sense of certainty for the present industry, time travelers Google and Verizon devise their own versions of net neutrality. Likewise, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) proposes a net neutrality bill of his own. Genachowski hubristically disparages both efforts.

Act Four: Our petulant hero dons the cloak of invisibility by waiting until the November elections have passed before announcing the FCC will finally vote on yet another version of net neutrality, wherein the Title II reclassification has become a forgotten red herring. Pushing back the meeting one week to December 21 ensures a lame duck Congress headed home for the holidays will have little opportunity for media reaction. Additionally, scarcely 10 days prior to the meeting and late on a Friday afternoon, a 2,000-page data dump of random, disorganized materials is released by the Wireline Competition Bureau and placed on the official FCC record prior to the meeting.

And the final reel? A showdown of sorts will take place next Tuesday at the FCC. While tumbleweed blows down a mostly deserted Beltway, the five commissioners will meet at the FCC corral to vote on Genachowski’s latest version of network neutrality.

There may be a further twist, however. One of Genachowski’s Democrat allies—the cantankerous Copps, has cast himself as the betrayed ideologically pure advocate of net neutrality. He might just switch sides and vote against Genachowski’s plan with the hopes of getting the FCC back to its Title II reclassification plan, joining the two Republican net neutrality opponents.

Regardless of what happens December 21, there will be a sequel beginning in January 2011. That’s when Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) assumes the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which holds jurisdiction over the FCC. More than 300 members of Congress publicly oppose mandating net neutrality, and all 95 candidates who signed a pledge in support of Genachowski’s dream lost in their election bids last month.

Yup, the new sheriff, superhero, ring manager, hobbit, U.S. Calvary division, or zombie slayer in town this coming year might help clean up any potential mess the Genachowski-led FCC creates next week.

Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is managing editor of  Infotech & Telecom News.