Friday, December 24, 2010

Federal Regulatory Agencies Acting When Congress Fails To Act

For the second time in a week, a federal regulatory agency is taking action when Congress has failed to act. First, the FCC promulgated regulations dealing with net neutrality. The net neutrality regulations are a mess, and it appears to be nothing more than a giveaway to wireless providers, because they are held to a different standard then landline providers. That was completely unnecessary and shows the way that lobbyists managed to water down the rules to their benefit. They know that the landline services are a dying breed as more people obtain only cellular services, and wireless providers will not be prevented from limiting services:
The companies have said the rules would provide some regulatory certainty. In private, they have acknowledged the proposal could have been much worse. If approved, they “will give some assurances to the companies that are building Web applications — companies like Netflix, Skype and Google — that they will get even treatment on broadband networks,” Ms. Arbogast said. But a wide swath of public interest groups have lambasted the proposal as “fake net neutrality” and said it was rife with loopholes. One group, Public Knowledge, said that instead of providing clear protections, the F.C.C. “created a vague and shifting landscape open to interpretation. Consumers deserved better.”

Notably, the rules are watered down for wireless Net providers like AT&T and Verizon, which would be prohibited from blocking Web sites, but not from blocking applications or services unless those applications directly compete with providers’ voice and video products, like Skype.

F.C.C. officials said there were technological reasons for the wireless distinctions, and that they would continue to closely monitor the medium.
Citing the wireless proposal, Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, said over the weekend that the F.C.C. was effectively allowing discrimination on the mobile Net, a fast-growing sector.

“Maybe you like Google Maps. Well, tough,” Mr. Franken said on Saturday on the Senate floor. “If the F.C.C. passes this weak rule, Verizon will be able to cut off access to the Google Maps app on your phone and force you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it is not as good. And even if they charge money, when Google Maps is free.”
I've got to agree with Sen. Franken (I know!). Having just ponied up for a new smart phone and apps, I know that Verizon Wireless has the Navigator, which charges for the GPS service, whereas Google maps (or Mapquest) have similar free functions. If Verizon Wireless decides that the competition is too much (such as claiming that too much bandwith is going to those apps), they'll insist on users sticking to Verizon Wireless applications and services.

The rules should have been consistent across the board - for wireless and standard telecommunications services. Offering up different rules means that a further distortion of the marketplace will occur and not in a good way for consumers or innovators.

Now, the EPA is looking to curb greenhouse gasses in proposing regulations.
In an announcement posted late Thursday on EPA's website, administrator Lisa Jackson said officials "are following through on our commitment to proceed in a measured and careful way" to reduce pollution that contributes to climate change.

The new regulations will focus specifically on coal plants and oil refineries, two of the largest sources of greenhouse gases. It will propose standards for power plants by next July and for refineries a year from now.
The increased regulations are likely to increase energy costs, which have already risen significantly since the middle of 2010 to the highest levels in nearly two years.

The real issue is that Congress has been incapable of dealing with these kinds of issues in any measurable way. Republicans are warning the Administration that they are going to attempt to block even these regulations, noting that they should not enact the EPA regulations when Congress refuses to take such actions.
The E.P.A.’s announcement drew swift criticism from Representative Fred Upton, the Michigan Republican who will become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee next month. “We should be working to bring more power online, not shutting plants down,” he said in a statement.

“We will not allow the administration to regulate what they have been unable to legislate,” he said. “This Christmas surprise is nothing short of a backdoor attempt to implement their failed job-killing cap-and-trade scheme,” he said.

In the conference call, Ms. McCarthy emphasized that the E.P.A. was not imposing a “cap-and-trade” system, a system that sets a ceiling on greenhouse gas pollution while allowing companies to trade permits, at a price that the market determines.

Approved last year in a House bill, cap-and-trade legislation died in the Senate this year. Later, opponents called it “cap and tax,” and it became a rallying cry for some midterm election candidates who were opposed to the expansion of government authority over industry and the economy.

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