The Broadband Rubicon

By June 17, 2010Communications, Regulations

When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 AD with his legions in tow, defying the Senates’ prohibitions on generals entering Italy proper with their troops, he uttered the famous words “the die is cast” (alea iacta est, to be specific).  Caesar being Caesar, he probably did so through gritted teeth, his sword to his breast, with his flinty stare focused firmly on the Capitoline Hill.

Two thousand years later a different die was cast, by another Julius with his eye on another Capitol Hill crossing his own Rubicon, and defying the will of another Senate.  At today’s Open FCC Meeting, Chairman Julius Genachowski led the Commission in voting in favor of moving forward with opening a proceeding that will inevitably redefine how the FCC regulates broadband services by imposing common carrier rules to the Internet.

Of course, what’s at stake with the roll of today’s die is a bit different from Caesar’s toss: with Old Julius, it was only the fate of Roman Empire.  Today’s stakes are far bigger – the fate of the nation’s information structure.  Why is this bigger you ask?  Let’s put it this way: the manufacturers who build the networks, the manufacturers who own the networks, the manufacturers who rely on new networks being built, could all see up to $62 billion in broadband investment dry up, costing over half-a million jobs.

According to a study released by New York Law School, the report estimates that if New Julius’s “Third Way” broadband plan is instituted, broadband providers and related industries may cut their investments by 10 percent to 30 percent from 2010 to 2015 in response to additional regulation. At 30 percent, the economy might sustain an $80 billion hit, according to Charles Davidson, director of the law school’s Advanced Communications Law & Policy Institute, which released the report on June 16.

What about the pesky Senate?  New Julius is facing his own dilemma as 282 Members of Congress, including 77 Democrats demanded the FCC leave its troops at the banks of the…er…drop its plan to reclassify broadband and allow Congress to do what it was elected to do. But, hey, Congress knew about the National Broadband Plan, and that was blessed by the President. Who we hear was elected by lots of people, too.

Unless Congress decides to defund the FCC, there will be a pretty quick process in which rounds of comments, reply comments, notices of proposed rules, and more comments are flitted through in less than six months.  In fact, the first round of comments are due July 15, reply comments due August 12. And again, unless Congress defunds the FCC, it’s highly probable that New Julius will get his way, only to find that the litigious Visigoths of industry will be banging down the doors of the Commission.

How is this going to end?  Hopefully better for New Julius than it did for Old Julius.  We’d be happy if he just crossed back over the Potomac and dropped his cockamamie plan over the Memorial Bridge.

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