In the wake of last week's ruling by the FCC to overturn the concept of net neutrality, I wrote that it would take a while for the dust to settle.
Well, the dust is already starting to settle. Minutes before the FCC's vote, I heard a guest on Bloomberg TV "advise" Congress to strip the FCC of its power to regulate the internet and hand that power to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
I've been talking about this idea with my colleagues. On the surface, it seems like a plan that might work. But then I did some searching and discovered a recent article by FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny.
"As a commissioner at the FTC, I can vouch for the fantastic competition and consumer protection work our small agency does with its dedicated and hardworking staff. There are many things it is equipped to do well. But protecting the open internet is not one of them," McSweeny writes. "The FTC does not have specialized expertise in telecommunications. We don't have engineers with technical experience in data network management practices. We don't even have jurisdiction over common carriers."
Well, that certainly throws cold water on the idea of shifting regulatory power for the Internet to the FTC or to any other agency that isn't really prepared to deal with the rapidly evolving realities of the modern digital era.
And that's the problem. Most of our regulatory systems were designed to cope with 20th century problems. Almost none of them are ready to confront 21st century problems.
As the FCC vote demonstrated, it's easy for politics to obscure legitimate issues. By historical standards, the Internet is still a new phenomenon. But last week's action by the FCC should serve as a warning shot to everyone in the IT industry. Somehow, we need to make our voices heard.
The idea of the FTC riding to the rescue is based on old notions of how government works. The FTC's mandate is to "maintain competition." But as McSweeny notes in his article, the FTC cannot maintain competition where it doesn't already exist. "The reality is that tens of millions of Americans have little or no choice when it comes to wireline broadband service," McSweeny writes.
Today we live in a globally connected digital culture. Access to broadband is absolutely essential to all of us - huge chunks of our economy would collapse without it.
It's fairly clear by now that our regulators aren't fully up to speed. We need a fresh set of flexible rules that genuinely reflect the awesome complexities of the modern world and the incredible power of information technology.
That leaves us with a big unanswered question: Who will write those rules?