No more Mr.Nice Guy: FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, a Democrat, today outlined his plans for regulating broadband Internet providers and drew the immediate wrath of the two Republican commissioners, indicating that the quest to find a way to deal with the exploding Internet, particularly its wireless part will be a long and tortuous struggle.
The framework outlined by Genachowski will be voted on at the FCC's Dec. 21 meeting.
"This framework, if adopted later this month, would advance a set of core goals: It would ensure that the Internet remains a powerful platform for innovation and job creation; it would empower consumers and entrepreneurs; it would protect free expression; it would increase certainty in the marketplace, and spur investment both at the edge and in the core of our broadband networks," said Genachowski.
Genachowski's proposal avoided a call to regulate Internet access as a Title II telecommunications service, as telecommunications services have been regulated in the past. A move to Title II was looked upon as Draconian by Republican members of the FCC and Congress.
Genachowski said Internet access and traffic issues can be dealt with under existing Title I provisions.
Ranking Republican commissioner Robert McDowell issued an immediate and sharp rejoinder. "Pushing a small group of hand-picked industry players toward a 'choice' between a bad option (Title I Internet regulation) or a worse option (regulating the Internet like a monopoly phone company under Title II) smacks more of coercion than consensus or compromise."
McDowell continued: "This 'agreement' has been extracted in defiance of not only the courts, but a large, bipartisan majority of Congress as well. Both have admonished the FCC not to reach beyond its statutory powers to regulate Internet access."
Federal lawmakers also took their positions with Democratic Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Ron Wyden of Oregon, urging the FCC to conclude its "Open Internet proceeding in December. We believe you are headed toward a principled center and we support that effort."
Republican congressman Joe Barton of Texas has urged the FCC give way and let Congress deal with the net neutrality issue. GOP Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas has also criticized the FCC action.
Noting that the FCC serves as a resource to Congress, Genachowski said the FCC proposal" is not designed or intended to preclude action by Congress." The FCC chairman noted that its proposal built upon a framework developed by Congressman Henry Waxman of California, a Democrat, who worked with technology and telecommunications companies, as well as consumer and public interest groups.
With the battle lines now drawn and a vote set for later in the month, the issue will likely be taken up in next year's Congress, where it is likely to have tough sledding. Genachowski has said right along that he is hoping "a third way" of compromising can lead to an amicable solution. Behind all the bombast, there is an undercurrent on all sides that wants the Internet and everything it stands for to thrive.
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