Saturday, August 17, 2013

What It Looks Like When Barney Fife Is Your Telecom Regulator

It is very quickly becoming clear that if you want the FCC to avoid enforcing their network neutrality rules, all you have to do is throw some half-assed, vague-sounding technical jargon at the agency to bog them down in inactivity indefinitely. With yesterday's news that AT&T is blocking yet another video chat application in order to drive users to more expensive data plans, it's rather clear that the FCC lacks the stomach to actually enforce the rules they designed.

The FCC's net neutrality rules already weren't worth much, given they were based on an outline designed by Google and Verizon. As such, they are filled with all manner of carefully engineered loopholes aimed at protecting the potential billions both were making via their mobile partnership.

However, the rules are worth even less with an FCC that's too timid or incompetent to enforce them.

While the FCC is clearly on shaky legal ground given Verizon's lawsuit to overturn the rules, that doesn't prohibit the FCC from at least publicly singling out and commenting on poor carrier behavior when it happens. The agency's inaction is tacit approval of the use of gatekeeper power to behave anti-competitively.

You might recall that back in September of last year FCC boss Julius Genachowski addressed AT&T's Facetime blockade, promising that if good faith negotiations "doesn't lead to a resolution and a complaint is filed, we will exercise our responsibilities and we will act."

A complaint was filed, no action was taken, and Genachowski's now on his way out the door for a new career in think tank life, about to be replaced by a former lobbyist for the wireless industry.

With only consumer groups and blogs standing in their way, yesterday AT&T made it clear they thought it would be fun to block yet more useful application functionality. You need intelligent, tough regulators that know when to stand pat, and when to kick a little ass. What the United States has is Barney Fife.

AT&T's Hangout and Facetime video blockades, while obnoxious, aren't even the worst violations consumers have seen.

For the last year Verizon has been able to block Google Wallet in order to give their own mobile payment platform, Isis, a leg up in the marketplace. That should technically violate not only the agency's neutrality rules, but the "carterfone" conditions attached to Verizon's 700 MHz spectrum. Yet all Verizon needed to do to dodge both is to give a bogus technical explanation regarding Wallet's use of the secure element to keep the FCC bogged down in paperwork and ineptitude for almost a year. Update: T-Mobile, also an Isis partner, has now joined the fun as well.

Google can thank themselves; it was their painful waffling on neutrality principles that helped create weak net neutrality rules nobody is willing to even enforce in the first place. That decision has since come home to roost.

Read the rest here....

AT&T Hangout Block Highlights a Timid, Incompetent FCC

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