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The FCC has Lost Its Credibility Internationally


What is the Internet?

Simple question, one would think the FCC could give a simple, straight and accurate answer when talking to their international regulatory counterparts, but they won’t.

That’s because they don’t want them to regulate the Internet like the FCC just has regulated the Internet in its Open Internet Order.

To try and justify regulating just the ISP-telecommunications-side of the Internet, but not regulating the Silicon-Valley-telecommunications-side of the Internet, the FCC’s, diplomatic message is as hypocritical as it is embarrassing: ‘do as we say, not as we do.’ (Translation: Adopt America’s Silicon-Valley-industrial-policy as your country’s policy.)   

The FCC has lost its credibility internationally because to claim that they are not regulating the Internet, the FCC must torture the definition of “the Internet” beyond recognition.

America’s international counterparts get the joke, they weren’t born yesterday.

And the joke is the FCC’s spin.

In international briefings to CITEL and others, the Head of the FCC’s International Bureau newly defines the Internet to only include American Silicon Valley Internet companies, and excludes everyone else from the Internet definition: i.e. broadband, computers, devices, and networks… even foreign-owned Internet companies.

Simply, they have literally redrawn and re-imagined the Internet to include only virtual bits, nothing physical like infrastructure, networks or devices.

Definitions matter.

No other official entity is trying to unilaterally redefine the Internet to suit their latest political whims.

Consider how obviously off the FCC is here in its international and diplomatic representations, in preposterously excluding computers, networks and devices from what the Internet is.  

Congress in the 1996 Telecommunications Act: “The term ‘Internet’ means the international computer network of both Federal and non-Federal interoperable packet switched data networks.”

The FCC in its 2005 Broadband Policy Statement: The Internet is “the international computer network of both Federal and non-Federal interoperable packet switched data networks.” 47 U.S.C. § 230(f)(1). The Internet is also described as “the combination of computer facilities and electromagnetic transmission media, and related equipment and software, comprising the interconnected worldwide network of computer networks that employ the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol or any successor protocol to transmit information.” 47 U.S.C. § 231(e)(3).

The Supreme Court in its Brand X decision upholding the FCC’s classification of cable broadband as an information service defined the Internet as a “network of interconnected computers.”

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as: “a global computer network providing a variety of information and communication facilities, consisting of interconnected networks using standardized communication protocols.”

Wikipedia – “The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to link several billion devices worldwide.”

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in 2012 defined the Internet of Things as: “A global infrastructure for the Information Society, enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on, existing and evolving, interoperable information and communication technologies.”

It isn’t credible for the FCC to define, claim or represent the Internet in official international diplomatic proceedings as something it clearly is not.

Under everyone else’s definition of the Internet, physical broadband networks are at least one of the key component parts of “the Internet.”

So for the FCC to claim officially in U.S. diplomatic relations that the FCC’s new regulation of broadband access is not regulating the Internet is patently false and deceptive.

If the FCC can’t tell the truth about what the Internet is, how can other countries’ authorities trust anything else they say about what they are doing with the Internet?

Ironically in the same FCC presentation to international telecom regulators, the FCC tells another whopper -- that the FCC’s Open Internet rules involve “no utility regulation.”  

International telecommunications regulators -- which are part of the International Telecommunications Union -- know what the legal term “telecommunications” is.

They know the FCC’s “telecommunications” regulation of broadband access is utility regulation, very different than how governments’ treat unregulated “information services.”

This FCC has done untold damage to the long-term international credibility of the FCC by obviously misrepresenting U.S. policy in official international fora with the deceptive intent to get countries to ‘do what the FCC says not what the FCC does.

Hypocrisy is not statecraft. 


Scott Cleland served as Deputy U.S. Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy in the George H. W. Bush Administration. He is President of Precursor LLC, a research consultancy for Fortune 500 companies, and Chairman of NetCompetition, a pro-competition e-forum supported by broadband interests.