FCC Plows Ahead on ‘Third Way’ Net Neutrality Regulation

The FCC on Thursday voted to explore reclassifying broadband, another step toward turning Net neutrality principles into law. Yet, despite all the hoopla and rhetoric surrounding the notice of inquiry, service providers should expect little, if any, immediate market impact. Thats because even though the FCC wants to issue an order later this fall, the timeline looks ambitious. Negotiations over details likely will stall progress, as could the mid-term elections and, of course, the lawsuits Net neutrality opponents are expected to file.

The 3-2 vote along party lines on June 17 came as no surprise to the industry. The FCC has talked for weeks about trying to regulate broadband as a Title II telecom service, rather than the less-stringent Title I information service. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski wants to implement a third way that gives the FCC enough authority to ensure network operators dont discriminate against users wireline and wireless broadband access and usage, but that doesnt interfere too much with providers business models. The third way proposal came after the FCC lost a key court case to Comcast over Internet traffic-throttling. AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. say a third way is onerous and burdensome. AT&T has even threatened to stop investing in its U-verse IPTV rollouts because of the third way plan.

For now, the FCCs decision to investigate Net neutrality law is stirring up the reactions typical of both sides of the Net neutrality debate. For example, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) think tank damned the FCC for implementing a destructive inquiry and called on Congress to step in. Congress is the sole body with authority over the FCC; many of the groups and companies that object to Net neutrality have persuaded dozens of politicians even some that have supported Net neutrality efforts to ask Genachowski not to pursue regulating broadband access. And, similar to CEI, the Progress & Freedom Foundation think tank dubbed the FCCs action a huge step backwards for communications in the United States.

Associations such as Public Knowledge, on the other hand, hailed the FCCs vote as a step toward protecting consumers.

The first round of comments is due July 15, with reply comments due Aug. 12. Chances are good, however, that the reply-comments deadline will be extended because of the controversial nature of Net neutrality.

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