Comments made earlier this week by FCC chairman Julius Genachowski have raised hackles at organizations like Free Press and kindred groups. The occasion was the Cable Show in Boston, and the offending subject was what is called “usage-based billing” – the radical notion that people who use more of a thing should pay more than those who use less.
In a Q&A session with Michael Powell, former FCC chairman and current CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, Genachowski avowed that there was much to like about broadband providers basing their charges on usage (rather than on a one-size-fits-all basis).
This wasn’t the first time Genachowski had endorsed this practice – it was part of the net neutrality regulations that the FCC promulgated a couple of years ago – but it was enough to provoke the simple folk at Free Press into eruptions of their usual blather.
The last time broadband billing was discussed in this blog (April 2009), the news was Time Warner Cable’s decision, under fire from people and organizations like Free Press, Public Knowledge, and Sen. Charles Schumer, to suspend their trials of this kind of billing in a handful of cities.
As reported at the time, the air was thick with celebration as the “victors” issued triumphant statements on the occasion. Triumphant no more, they have been reduced, in response to Genachowski’s comments on Tuesday, to broadsides and bromides like this one from Matt Wood, policy director of Free Press: “The data caps being pushed by the biggest cable companies are bad for consumers … and the FCC should be investigating these caps, not endorsing them.”
But enough about broadband billing per se. The more noteworthy thing about Genachowski’s comment is that this marks at least the third time that he has demonstrated his independence from the louder voices among communications policy outfits.
The first time was with the FCC’s adoption of what came to be called “net neutrality lite,” and the second was when he hired Steve Waldman to head up the agency’s “future of media” report, a document that steered clear of the most intrusive and inappropriate kinds of recommendations that had been proposed for it.
None of this is to say – nor would the gentleman necessarily welcome our saying – that Mr. Genachowski is the very model of what one looks for in an FCC chairman. Though the net neutrality regulations are much better than what they might have been, better still would be no such regulations at all.
Still, in an environment as divisive as Washington’s, it’s probably a good idea once in a while to step outside of it all and give credit where credit is due. So props to Julius Genachowski for his embrace of usage-based broadband billing. ’Tis a fine thing he’s done.
The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.