Having not-so-quietly simmered during the eight years of the Bush vacuum, the issue of who controls what is about to boil over. Last week Julius Genachowski, the Obama-appointed chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, tore-up the rulebook of the past eight years.
He proposed a stricter regime, based on that originally created to control the might of America's monopoly telephone networks – although he promised not to apply some of its more stringent rules.In essence an iron fist in a velvet glove.
Unsurprisingly, the US broadband companies - many of whom are also telcos - are unenthused by proposed legislation that would limit their quasi-monopolistic powers.
But the FCC chairman insists he wants to cherry-pick the parts of the old system that will keep networks open: although it's legally questionable as to whether he can separate these pieces from the price controls and other rules that were also essential components of the old regime.
Telecoms colossus Comcast over-reacted to Genachowski's move, provoking a court wrangle that promises to be as long and as bitter as that which followed the 1996 Telecom Act.
Having earlier proposed a set of “network neutrality” rules, Genachowski has sown distrust among network companies - and, argues the Financial Times, "if the real endgame all along has been to angle for legislation, the current political realities in Washington make success unlikely."
Continues the FT's thesis: "The result is likely to be a continuation of the muddle-through that has got the industry this far. Dark warnings that legal uncertainty would cause broadband investment to dry up have proved overly alarmist in the past, and are likely to do so now as well. It is not a disaster, perhaps – but hardly the solid foundation for the modern networked economy that was one of the big promises of the Obama campaign."