FCC to begin crafting ‘net neutrality’ rules

Wants to ensure providers don’t abuse control

By Joelle Tessler
Associated Press / October 23, 2009

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WASHINGTON - Federal regulators took an important step yesterday toward prohibiting broadband providers from favoring or discriminating against certain kinds of Internet traffic.

Despite the concerns of the telecommunications industry and the agency’s two Republicans, the Federal Communications Commission voted to begin writing so-called “network neutrality’’ regulations to prevent phone and cable companies from abusing their control over the market for broadband access.

The FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, said regulations are needed to ensure that broadband subscribers can access all legal websites and services, including calling applications and video sites that compete with the broadband companies.

The FCC’s two other Democrats voted to support his plan. The agency’s two Republican commissioners voted merely to start the formal rule-making process, but said they have reservations about the substance of Genachowski’s proposal.

Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell said he remains unconvinced that broadband providers are engaging in anticompetitive behavior that requires government intervention.

“I do not share the majority’s view that the Internet is showing breaks and cracks, nor do I believe that the government is the best tool to fix it,’’ he said.

Next up for the FCC is to actually craft the rules, with a vote on whether to adopt them expected to come by next summer.

Yet even as the net neutrality proceeding unfolds at the FCC, the courts and Congress may also become involved. With mounting Republican opposition on the Hill, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, introduced a bill yesterday to block Genachowski’s proposal.