Tuesday, June 28, 2005
It's More Important Than Grokster
by Susan at 01:46PM (EDT) on June 27, 2005 Permanent Link
The consequences of BrandX (also decided today) are more important than those of Grokster. Grokster keeps the status quo in place. BrandX opens up a whole new world of regulatory power.
"What?" you ask. "I thought BrandX was just about the access of little ISPs to big mean cable systems."
No. In fact, both opinions are the reverse of what they purport to be. The Grokster opinion gives certainty to tech companies. And the BrandX opinion takes it away again.
In BrandX, Justice Thomas gets very confused about the internet and ends up essentially announcing that everything a user does online is an "information service" being offered by the access provider. DNS, email (even if some other provider is making it available), applications, you name it -- they're all included in this package. And the FCC can make rules about these information services under its broad "ancillary jurisdiction."
This is very very big. This means that even though information services like IM and email don't have to pay tariffs or interconnect with others, they may (potentially) have to pay into the universal service fund, be subject to CALEA, provide enhanced 911 services, provide access to the disabled, and be subject to general consumer protection rules -- all the subjects of the FCC's IP-enabled services NPRM. I've blogged about this a good deal, and now it's coming true: the FCC is now squarely in charge of all internet-protocol enabled services.
The implications of all this are staggering. This is the real news from today. After the DC Circuit's ruling in the broadcast flag case, people may have thought that the FCC's "ancillary jurisdiction" was in trouble. No longer -- the FCC has been given an enormous jurisdictional surge in power. Even though its statute -- in my view, at least -- doesn't really
give it this authority.