Brief thoughts on today's FCC Net Neutrality announcement

Late last night, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski made explicit what he’d been hinting for weeks–that he was going to call for a vote in December on the agency’s long-running net neutrality proceedings.

Today, the Chairman gave a speech outlining a new version of the rules he has circulated to fellow Commissioners, which will be voted on on Dec. 21, 2010..

The new order itself has not yet been made public, however, and the Chairman’s comments didn’t give much in the way of details.  The latest version appears to reflect the proposed legislation circulated before the mid-term recess by then-Commerce chair Henry Waxman.  That version, for those following the ball here, was itself based on the legislative framework proposed by Google and Verizon, which itself emerged from informal negotiations convened over the summer at the FCC.

So in some sense the agency is moving, albeit non-linearly, toward some kind of consensus.

I have a brief article this morning in the Orange County Register laying out the pros and cons of this latest iteration, to the extent that is possible without seeing the order.

The timing of today’s announcement, however, is significant.  This was Genachowski’s last chance to wrap up the proceedings before the new Congress , with its Republican House and more even Senate, clocks in.  Republicans on their own don’t have the votes to pass legislation that would have blocked the FCC from voting on net neutrality later, but Republican leaders had threatened to use their oversight authority to put additional pressure on the FCC not to enact new neutrality rules.

That might still happen, of course, and already today several Republican leaders have promised to do whatever they can do undo today’s developments.  Assuming the Commission approves the rule at its December 21, 2010 meeting, there’s also a strong likelihood of litigation challenging the rules and the FCC’s authority to issue them.

So this is not the end of the net neutrality soap opera by any stretch of the imagination.  If anything, it suggests a new chapter, one that will take the discussion farther away from the technical architecture of the Internet and the best interests of consumers and closer to pure political theater.