All the Political Cover the FCC Could Ever Want

On net neutrality, the FCC has all the political cover it could ever want–the President himself, Senator Rockefeller, Congressman Ed Markey, technology companies and other companies in our economy, and notable citizen groups on both sides of the aisle (though even more that tend to be aligned with his party, for whatever that’s worth). Add to that: it’s the right thing. Net neutrality the right thing for our democracy, economy, and global competitiveness. And Americans support an open Internet.

I don’t understand why an independent agency needs so much “cover” to do the right thing. (The Republican FCC had a different philosophy on cover, and got a lot done.) But, if cover is what this FCC wants, cover is what this FCC has had, since the beginning of the Genachowski Chairmanship.

Today, the FCC wakes up with even more of this precious cover. After the Republicans rejected Chairman Waxman’s proposed net neutrality, the Chairman issued an unambiguous, strong endorsement of reclassification and of the FCC adopting net neutrality protections: “If our efforts to find bipartisan consensus fail, the FCC should move forward under Title II.”

News stories are saying the obvious after Congressman Waxman endorsed reclassification yesterday: “Analyst: Waxman endorsement could give Genachowski political cover.”

The move by the powerful chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee gives political cover to the FCC to move forward with “reclassification” of Internet services, which could place cable- and telephone-company broadband businesses under certain telephone strictures.

If the upcoming mid-term election goes as planned, the FCC may have less “political cover” soon. (If that’s how cover works.)

So we should take Chairman Waxman’s move as a powerful statement for the FCC to act promptly. If the FCC acts, and acts decisively for consumers, the FCC’s  past year of net neutrality debate may no longer be viewed as it has been in the press: as weak, dithering behavior by senior FCC officials. It’ll likely be viewed instead as politically fortuitous tactics getting us to this point, where all legislative options are exhausted, and Chairman Genachowski’s hand is unbeatable. (Or, as unbeatable as it can be in DC, where there are winners and losers from rules, and the potential losers fight to the end.)

To use a poker metaphor: it would no longer look as if the Chairman was just folding his cards over and over because he was bad at the game and afraid to play. If he acts now, oddly, it would look as if he knew he needed a royal flush to beat The House (The House is also known as AT&T). It would seem as if the Chairman was reading his opponents all along, trying to find creative ways to make everyone a winner (which was impossible), then playing out the hands to line everything up to protect consumers, and waiting to strike with a royal flush. (Unless he folds or dithers now; then the first reading is the obvious one.) Now he has a royal flush. He could redeem the past year of folding. He can beat the house. Time to play the hand.

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