FCC Announces Open Internet Roundtables, Senator Says It's Not Enough
Late last week, the Federal Communications Commission announced it was going to do a series of roundtable discussions about the Open Internet. It would be hosted in the FCC's Washington D.C. offices and streamed on the Internet. Now Senator Patrick Leahy is telling the FCC that's not enough.
The FCC's "Open Internet Roundtable Discussions" would provide an opportunity for the FCC and "interested parties" to examine the agency's controversial plan to restore Open Internet rules, which, from 2010 until January of this year, more or less enforced some semblance of Net Neutrality on fixed Internet service providers.
The sessions are clearly a response from the agency to the furor surrounding its new Open Internet initiative, which has sparked protests outside and inside the FCC's building, as well as across the Internet. Naturally, a technological, policy, infrastructure, and business issue as complicated as regulating the Internet should be discussed in detail for the public to gain a more detailed understanding of the issues at stake (perhaps it should have been done months ago).
And, judging by the schedule, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is interested in beginning the discussion on a general level, and moving into more specifics as the roundtables progress -- allowing the bulk of the time for interested onlookers to learn the nuts and bolts of the policy changes, beyond the less productive philosophical back-and-forth between hard core Net Neutrality advocates and the free market advocates that want little to no regulation. Here are the topics of discussion as per the FCC's schedule:
Policy Approaches to Ensure an Open Internet -- September 16 (morning)
Mobile Broadband and the Open Internet -- September 16 (afternoon)
Effective Enforcement of Open Internet Regulations -- September 19 (morning)
Technological Aspects of an Open Internet -- September 19 (afternoon)
Economics of Broadband: Market Successes and Failures -- October 2
Internet Openness and the Law -- October 7
The debate over Net Neutrality has created the biggest commenting response on any policy-related matter -- and the largest influx of public comments to the FCC ever, besides the wave of indignation that hit the agency after the Janet Jackson Super Bowl Halftime Show nipple slip. It's interesting to note that these roundtable events are scheduled for after the commenting/comment-reply period closes.
And while the roundtables will be virtually open to the public through live-streams, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), who backs Net Neutrality, is urging the FCC to reach out beyond the Washington beltway. On Wednesday, Leahy called on the FCC to expand the roundtables so that people around the country can be actively involved in the discussion. It's not an unusual request, as the FCC has done this on other controversial issues in the past.
Most of the people who commented to the FCC online, argued Leahy, "will not be able to come to Washington to participate in the roundtables that have been scheduled, but their voices are more important than industry lobbyists and members of Congress," wrote Leahy to Wheeler, according to Reuters. An FCC spokesperson responded, "The roundtable events are designed to incorporate a wide range of views on this important topic, and they will be open to the public and streamed live online," and added that virtual attendants will be able to pose questions to the roundtables from online.
With that detail about the roundtables revealed, two questions remain. How will the public react to the final decision rendered by the FCC after the comments period ends approximately a week before the roundtables begin? And how "open" will the roundtables actually be to online questioners, if they get a virtual tsunami of people angry about that decision?
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