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FCC Could Be on Way to Making Net Neutrality Law

Sick of the Net neutrality debate yet? Well, it’s ramped up again thanks to the closing of a comments window at the FCC late last week. And this latest round of input yielded zero surprises.

The usual suspects – think Skype, many CLECs, Amazon.com, Google and so on – want stringent open Internet rules while the other usual suspects – think incumbent phone providers and cable operators – do not. The latter group has said it doesn’t mind keeping the Web neutral but does not want rules proscribing that. (Such a view is interesting considering Comcast Corp. got caught in 2008 for slowing peer-to-peer traffic, a decidedly anti-net-neutral action.)

The Julius Genachowski-led FCC has pledged to explore the issue of net neutrality in-depth, with the intent of turning the principle into law. On Sept. 22, 2009, Genachowski said he wants to solidify the FCC’s existing principles – guidelines affirming that consumers must be able to access lawful Internet content, applications and services and attach non-harmful devices to the network – and expand them. Genachowski wants to apply those ideas to wireless networks and, further, 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.

The FCC has been gathering comment on how net neutrality law would affect the broadband world. Now the agency must make its way through the hundreds of documents, a process that is expected to culminate in a proposed set of rules late this year. Three Democrats control the five-seat commission, so the chances of a net neutrality law passing are good.

However, there could be a problem in store for the FCC. A federal court has been hearing arguments in the FCC’s punishment of Comcast for that traffic throttling, and the outcome of the case will determine how far the agency can go in overseeing net neutrality. If the court favors Comcast – as, at this point, it seems to – the FCC will have to enlist the support of Congress to get full protections.


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