FCC: Foolish or just incompetent?

Some days, when you look at the FCC all you can do is say ay yi yi - and reach for the tequila. We've already discussed the raging incompetence of Our Lads (and Lass) in Washington, D.C., when it comes to screwing up universal access. Now we can add ham-handed cronyism and jaw-dropping inconsistency to the list of boneheaded maneuvers.

Some days, when you look at the FCC all you can do is say ay yi yi … and reach for the tequila. We’ve already discussed the raging incompetence of Our Lads (and Lass) in Washington, D.C., when it comes to screwing up universal access. Now we can add ham-handed cronyism and jaw-dropping inconsistency to the list of boneheaded maneuvers.

Last week, start-up Frontline Wireless dropped out of the upcoming 700MHz wireless auction, scheduled to begin Jan. 24. The significance? Frontline had been expected to proffer the winning bid for what was, in effect, an FCC-sponsored “spectrum set-aside”. Frontline’s backers included former FCC chair Reed Hundt (hmm, can you spell “back-scratching?”).

At Frontline’s request (don’t even ask) the FCC carved out 10MHz of spectrum for public safety usage. Frontline’s plan was to piece the spectrum together to provide a national wireless broadband network for use by emergency workers.

Frontline now says it can’t afford to build the network. The FCC is scrambling to line up alternative bids (no success so far). One possible outcome is that 10MHz of valuable spectrum goes unused, because the way the spectrum was portioned makes it essentially useless. At this rate, I wouldn’t trust the FCC to carve a turkey, let alone portion out spectrum. But I’m not done yet.

Advertisement

Moving right along, check out the FCC’s illogical policy on net neutrality: Good for cable companies, bad for telcos. On Jan. 14, the FCC grandly announced it’s going after (cable company) Comcast for mucking around in customer traffic. Specifically, it’s launched an investigation into the documented complaint that Comcast has been interfering with customers attempting to use the BitTorrent peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol.

So far so good — Comcast has way overstepped the line, and ought to be spanked. Hard. Yay to the FCC for (belatedly) recognizing this.

But get this: On the same day, AT&T announced it was planning to filter network content to preclude possible copyright violations. The response from the FCC? Nada.

Here's the deal: I’ve made the point many times that the pro-net-neutrality crowd needs to recognize service providers’ legitimate need to offer tiered classes of service. But messing with customer content — whether copyrighted or otherwise— is going too far.

It’s no different from the Postal Service: The USPS can (and should, if it chooses) offer different classes of service, depending on how quickly you want the letter (and how badly you want the parcel smashed). But under no circumstances can it ever open and read your mail, or refuse to deliver it based on content (so long as the content is enclosed).

This distinction tends to escape the pro-net-neutrality folks, who don’t see the difference between “tiered service” and “messing with content”. But the FCC’s lack of consistency just makes matters worse. Messing with content is not OK, regardless of who does it.

On second thought, maybe it’s the commissioners who’ve been hitting the tequila. They sure manage to give that impression at times.

Learn more about this topic

 
Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Take IDG’s 2020 IT Salary Survey: You’ll provide important data and have a chance to win $500.