October 9, 2003 · Lessig
On Monday, the 9th Circuit decided that the FCC was wrong in classifying a “cable modem service” as an “information service,” and thus exempting it from any common-carrier-like obligations. This is a very important decision in the ongoing battles about preserving end-to-end neutrality on the Net.
But meanwhile, there’s a very tricky game being played with the Internet Tax Freedom Act which might make the whole 9th Circuit issue moot. Someone has slipped a nice little change into that statute that potentially could exempt any broadband service from any common carrier obligations. The legislative history is being puffed up to say this won’t be the effect. But the language of the change has many concerned (and no doubt some filled with glee) that this fundamental policy issue will be decided by a slip of the hand in a totally unrelated bill. As one critic writes,
If Congress adopts the bill in its current form and it becomes law, it will be cited as “evidence” that it was Congress’ intent to treat the transmission services used to provide Internet access differently than those transmission services not used for Internet access, and more precisely that Congress intends the underlying transmission service to be treated the same as the Internet access service. (not subject to Title II in the DSL and cable modem proceedings) Moreover, it will be used to argue that Congress supports the FCC’s revisionist “telecommunications is subsumed into information services” approach that serves as the basis of the FCC’s cable modem and wireline DSL proceedings.
The bills are HR 49 and S 150.