After a little bit of suspense, Comcast today filed suit in federal court challenging the FCC’s authority to sanction it for “unreasonable network practices.” I say suspense because there was speculation that Comcast might have decided to look the other way and live with a decision that didn’t really force it to do much that the market hadn’t already made it do. I’m happy to see that they’re not standing for Kevin Martin’s blatant overreach. As I’ve said many times before, the FCC has no authority to punish a company for behaving “unreasonably” when it has never established a criteria for what is reasonable.
I don’t know to what statement specifically Saul Hansell is referring, but in his New York Times post breaking the news, he wrote:
Kevin Martin, the commission’s chairman, has argued that making rules in advance is not a good method to regulate fast-moving markets like Internet service. Under his stewardship, the commission has published broad principles and has taken action only when it found that objectionable practices have occurred.
I love that. Making laws before we apply them isn’t really efficient.
If you want every gory detail about why the FCC’s order should fall, I heartily recommend to you Barbara Esbin’s recent paper [PDF] on the matter. Esbin is a fourteen-year veteran of the FCC and, among other things, in her paper she explodes an argument that I’ve been hearing lately, namely that the FCC has “ancillary jurisdiction” to regulate broadband network management practices. She writes:
As Commissioner Adelstein stated: “[T]he Order sets out the Commission’s legal authority under Title I of the Act, explaining that preventing unreasonable network discrimination directly furthers the goal of making broadband Internet access both “rapid” and “efficient.” This appears to be a paraphrase of Section 1 of the Act, which recites the Act’s purposes and the reason for creation of the FCC, including “regulating interstate and foreign commerce in communication by wire and radio so as to make available . . . a rapid, efficient, Nation-wide and world-wide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges…” But because Title I is also considered the source of “ancillary jurisdiction,” that is akin to saying that the FCC can regulate if its actions are ancillary to its ancillary jurisdiction, and that is one ancillary too many.