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FCC Net Neutrality Proceeding Commands Nations Attention

The nation’s interest has not waned in Federal Communications Commission regulations that are intended to protect the openness of the modern era’s greatest invention — the Internet.

As of Sept. 15, the end of an official comment period, the FCC received an astounding 3.7 million comments on its open Internet proceeding. The FCC, under its vocal chairman Tom Wheeler, has proposed Net neutrality regulations that resemble ones adopted four years ago. Verizon successfully challenged the 2010 regulations in an appeal that was decided early this year. 

Washington is abuzz with Net neutrality chatter. On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Net neutrality, its second one in months following one that was convened this summer in Vermont. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the committee, expressed disdain for arrangements that would enable content providers such as Amazon and Netflix to pay ISPs a premium in exchange for higher priority over Internet pipes.

The FCC has sought comment in its Internet proceeding on whether it should ban so-called paid prioritization agreements. The agreements could prove important for Netflix – one of the largest sources of Internet traffic – by enabling its subscribers to enjoy TV shows and movies, for instance, without buffering or other interruptions in the streaming experience. Critics of such deals worry consumers could have difficulty accessing other Internet content.

“Allowing the Internet to become a two-tiered system of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, controlled by a small number of corporate gatekeepers, would destroy everything that has made it one of the greatest innovations in human history,” Leahy said Wednesday in a prepared statement at the outset of a hearing, “Why Net Neutrality Matters: Protecting Consumers and Competition.”

How to police the Internet remains an extremely divisive topic, creating a daunting task for an FCC that is almost certain to face a legal challenge no matter what the final regulations look like.

Speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Robert McDowell, a former FCC commissioner and Republican, said he opposes attempts by the agency to regulate the Internet.

“Nothing is broken in the Internet access market that needs fixing,” declared McDowell, who recently joined Wiley Rein, LLP, a renowned law firm in Washington, D.C., as a partner.

Others are in favor of regulation. Regulations adopted by the FCC must be “based on a general expectation of nondiscrimination for Internet service,” Nuala O’Connor, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology, told lawmakers Wednesday.

Separately Wednesday, Verizon said it opposes subjecting wireless broadband networks to the same Net neutrality regulations as wireline networks. As Verizon pointed out, in the FCC’s 2010 “Open Internet Order,” the FCC subjected wireless networks to fewer regulations.

“Heavy regulation could stifle creativity and innovation even more in the rapidly changing and highly competitive mobile environment than it will in the wireline environment,” said Craig Silliman, Verizon’s senior vice president of public policy, in a blog.


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