Groups: FCC, Genachowski Neutered Net Neutrality

The FCC, on the verge of trying to codify Net neutrality rules, is taking a beating today from various groups who say the agency has yanked the teeth out of regulation that would have preserved an open Internet.

The Julius Genachowski-led FCC on Wednesday formally unveiled a proposal to keep Internet providers from managing Web traffic. But Genachowski avoided reclassifying broadband services, which would have given the agency greater oversight, while endorsing metered pricing and imposing light requirements on wireless operators. Indeed, the details come off as less weighty than the principles Genachowski had been expected to back. And several groups voiced their displeasure.

Open Internet rules must include a basis for extending service to those not now covered, full application to wireless, protection against all efforts to block or degrade Internet access, and enforceable rules rather than an ad hoc complaint-based process,” said Tyrone Brown, president of Media Access Project (MAP), in a statement. Brown added that MAP is very disappointed about the chairmans proposal.”

Free Press issued a similar release. Josh Silver, the groups president and CEO, said hes glad the FCC is moving ahead with a Net neutrality policy but that the proposal looks like the fake Net neutrality preferred by foes of the open Internet.”

Real Net neutrality means a clear prohibition on paid prioritization, equal protections on wireless and wired networks, and a clear user-focused definition of broadband access and reasonable network management,” Silver said. But the draft order falls short on each of these important aspects, with language that creates loopholes that you could drive a Verizon-Google-sized truck through.”

Public Knowledge said its pleased that the FCC is acting on Net neutrality, but wants some changes. First, the organization wants stronger rules for wireless Internet access; second, it wants a simpler definition of broadband Internet access service”; and, third, it wants the FCC to have tighter rein over paid prioritization.

Still, other activists saw Genachowskis proposal as a fair compromise. The Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP), called the document a middle-ground approach.”

It appears the FCC has listened to our community and has come to a sensible framework regarding Net neutrality that supports an open and robust Internet without extreme or burdensome regulation so that our community can continue to work toward universal digital inclusion,” said Gus West, co-chairman of HTTP and chairman of The Hispanic Institute. 

Telecom analysts at investment bank Stifel Nicolaus agreed.

If regulatory nirvana was the day the FCCs Comcast Net neutrality sanction was overturned in court, and regulatory purgatory was the day the chairman announced his initial preference for broadband reclassification, his proposed rules are a middle ground,” wrote Rebecca Arbogast and David Kaut in a Dec. 1 client memo.

Jeff Silva, the telecom senior policy director at investment bank Medley Global, called Genachowskis move a return to the center.”

The proposal, which major industry stakeholders prefer over reclassification, is unlikely to play well with either liberal or conservative elements of the political spectrum,” Silva noted. While FCC action should reduce regulatory risk for telecom, cable and wireless companies in the broadband space, some regulatory uncertainty will persist in the near term and litigation remains a possibility.”

For Matt Polka, president and CEO of the American Cable Association (ACA), Genachowski seems driven to reach a balanced compromise, one that rests on a desire to protect broadband consumers while at the same time recognizing the important network management concerns of broadband providers.” ACA is made up of smaller cable operators, many of whom feared stricter government rules would hurt their broadband-availability strategies.

On the other hand, Walt McCormick, president and CEO of USTelecom, didnt go so far as to praise the FCC for crafting a settlement he said his association will continue to push for a market-based” policy reliant upon competition rather than regulation.” But McCormick did laud Genachowski for skirting the broadband-reclassification issue, a matter that his members, including Verizon and AT&T, consider anathema to their business models.

Genachowski has spent much of this year negotiating with the communications industry over Net neutrality; to be sure, the FCCs closed-door” discussions incurred the wrath of watchdogs including Free Press and Public Knowledge. Those meetings were called off in late summer, just as Verizon Wireless and Google forged their own Net neutrality agreement, to Genachowskis chagrin.

And while the formal proposal seems less intense than many industry observers predicted would result from Genachowski, thats largely due to a federal appeals court ruling earlier this year. Judges in Washington, D.C., said last spring that the FCC overstepped its bounds two years ago when trying to punish cable operator Comcast Corp. for throttling certain bandwidth-hogging peer-to-peer traffic. After that happened, it was unclear how far the FCC could go without risking legal action.

Commissioners will vote on Net neutrality on Dec. 21. The two Republicans Meredith Atwell Baker and Robert McDowell are likely to vote against the proposal. Theyve already issued statements expressing their displeasure with Genachowskis Net neutrality rules.

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