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FCC Wants To Make Net Neutrality Law

Julius Genachowski has made his first big move as FCC chairman, and the reaction is pouring in.

On Monday, Genachowski dove right in to the net neutrality fray, as expected, and proposed two additions to the agency’s so-called four open Internet principles – guidelines affirming that consumers must be able to access lawful Internet content, applications and services and attach non-harmful devices to the network.

Now, Genachowski wants to make those principles official regulation – applicable to wired and wireless networks – and add verbiage to prevent ISPs from discriminating against certain Internet content or applications, while allowing for reasonable network management. He also wants to ensure Internet access providers are transparent about their network management. Comcast Corp. landed in hot water over that one last year, with the FCC ordering it to stop throttling traffic from certain peer-to-peer sites.

Genachowski will issue a notice of proposed rulemaking at next month’s FCC meeting; the agency will ask for input on its proposed rules. Expect that feedback to run the gamut, from support from the likes of consumer advocacy groups to vehement opposition from the LECs, cable operators and even some competitive service providers.

Indeed, commentary on Genachowski’s announcement had neared deluge levels in inboxes by mid-Monday morning. The right-leaning Competitive Enterprise Institute think tank had nothing but scorn for the proposal, and the free-market think tank, The Progress & Freedom Foundation, wondered “why the administration wants to start meddling with a sector of the economy that, despite a challenging macro-economic environment, is performing pretty well by any rational standard.”

Conversely, special interest groups including Public Knowledge and the Open Internet Coalition praised Genachowski, calling his move “a bold step” that, if cemented, “will ensure that the Internet remains a catalyst for economic growth, consumer choice, and robust speech.”

Given the breadth of controversy over net neutrality, expect the matter to remain under debate for months, if not years. Congress, too, is likely to get involved, just as it did three years ago, leading to an even more prolonged process.

For his part, Genachowski said in a speech at the Brooking Institution statements Monday, that he wants to strike a balance between too much and too little regulation.

“This is not about government regulation of the Internet,” he said. “It’s about fair rules of the road for companies that control access to the Internet.”

And it makes sense that Genachowski would seek a middle ground. In addition to being a lawyer and policymaker, he also has been a tech-industry entrepreneur; that experience alone seems to indicate knowledge of and respect for the interests of businesses and consumers.


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