FCC’s grab for new regulatory power could go beyond broadband providers

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[Commentary] Internet application and content companies, what some refer to as “edge providers,” are increasingly concerned by the Federal Communications Commission’s newfound ability to regulate the Internet, and rightfully so.

For years, edge providers -- Pandora, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp, to name just a few -- have flourished from the government’s hands-off approach to the Internet. Both Republicans and Democrats championed a structure that allowed the “application layer” of Internet architecture to be free from government intervention, apart from occasional Federal Trade Commission activity.

That is now subject to change. A very real threat is that edge providers could fall within the reach of the FCC’s newly invented authority to regulate the Internet under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently announced the Commission will seek comment on proposed new net neutrality rules that will “meet the court’s test.” His focus may be on broadband providers, but edge providers shouldn’t be lulled into complacency. The notion of preserving an “open Internet” is so vague that any rules meant to accomplish that goal could unintentionally impact edge providers’ business models.

The only intellectually honest conclusion for net neutrality supporters is to extend the burden to everyone: broadband providers and edge providers. The only way to achieve that seems to be creative use of Section 706. With every Internet site, service and application vulnerable to Internet security threats, these could readily come under the purview of the FCC.

FCC’s grab for new regulatory power could go beyond broadband providers