The FCC has champed at the bit to find ways to regulate the Internet under chair Julius Genachowski, garnering rebukes from both the courts and from Congress for overstepping its authority. So their decision to request more comment time on their latest Net Neutrality proposals may seem a bit strange, given a distinct sense of aggressive acquisition of jurisdiction from the FCC during the Obama administration. However, extending the comment period does offer a distinct benefit, if not to Genachowski, then to Democrats in charge of Congress (emphasis mine):
After months spent gathering comments about preserving an open and competitive Internet, the F.C.C. requested more feedback on Wednesday about whether regulations should apply to wireless Internet service.
The agency is also asking for comments about one of the most hotly debated Internet regulatory issues: special services that offer to prioritize certain digital traffic for a fee. …
The F.C.C.’s decision to seek further comment during the next 55 days effectively precluded any commission actions until after the Congressional elections in November.
Well, isn’t that … convenient? Pushing a renewed power grab until after the midterms leaves Genachowski with a lame-duck Congress that may not feel particularly motivated to reassert its own authority as it did earlier with Genachowski. It also gives Genachowski a small but valuable window in which to push through potentially radioactive policies while Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid control Capitol Hill and hope a Republican House forgets about it in their haste to undo ObamaCare and conduct investigations into White House conduct.
Of course, this could also be read as a way for the FCC to run out the clock on a Democratic Congress, having decided that they have no way to grab control of the Internet. That’s the way that the New York Times appears to report it, with an emphasis on howls of criticism from Net Neutrality supporters who blasted the FCC for ducking the issue. It may be that both sides have good reason to be suspicious, opponents from Genachowski’s track record, and supporters from the fact that Genachowski hasn’t figured out how to get around the court ruling that decimated the FCC’s rationale for imposing Net Neutrality rules.
In any case, this makes the concern over the lame-duck Congress after the midterms just a little more specific.