Regulators get busy on Neutrality and Ownership
November 26, 2010
On both sides of the Atlantic the rule makers are readying Net Neutrality legislation and seem likely to head in different directions. The FCC in Washington has been trying to bring broadband provision under the mush stricter telecom carrier regime and, in horse-trading to avoid this fate, service providers have backed-off their opposition to Neutrality rules. However, while the right to free and equal access for users and content providers will be enshrined, the right to pay for ‘more equal access than others’ will certainly survive in some form.
Without the sacrosanct First Amendment rights to free speech to worry about, the European Commission is more relaxed about letting network providers charge users and content providers for better service levels. This is a rare row where both sides use the same argument; ‘if the other side win it will stifle innovation.’ The Commission accepts the right of infrastructure investors to see a return on capital is more likely to encourage innovation than letting a thousand unfettered video providers bloom, probably compromising all users service levels.
Meantime, the UK regulator has been handed the tricky task of ruling on whether letting News Corp buy the part of Sky it doesn’t already own will damage media plurality (Europe will decide whether the deal should be stopped on competition grounds).
Oddly, controversy – for which read fierce opposition from News Corp’s TV and newspaper rivals – has centred entirely on Sky News, the broadcaster’s least watched service. But because Sky News has proved itself a professional and neutral service, the fear it will stop being like this – and become ‘Foxified’ – is the stick chosen to beat News Corp with. As the board of Sky points out, this is perverse and its’ answer is a none too veiled threat to close Sky News if that’s what’s blocking the bid – and what will that achieve for plurality?
With or without News Corp ownership Sky News will still operate under UK broadcasting regulation and, if it wants to keep the second part of its name, that’s enough to stop it becoming the bizarre rant fest that is Fox News.