Debate Intensifies as Net Neutrality Vote Nears

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Washington — A planned Dec. 21 vote on a draft
network-neutrality proposal continues to fuel debate in
Washington telecom policy circles.

Federal Communicat
ions Commision chairman
Julius Genachowski’s
draft proposal to codify
and expand network-openness
guidelines is still on
track, while sources close
to FCC commissioner Michael
Copps were suggesting
some of the language
would have to change.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)
called on both Copps and
the other Democratic FCC
commissioner, Mignon Clyburn,
to vote for the proposal
Dec. 21, given that the two
Republican commissioners
are strongly opposed to it.

Kerry said that while he
would prefer something
stronger, they should not
give up a chance for something
good in pursuit of “the
perfect.”

Clyburn gave strong indications
that she and Kerry
were on the same page in a
speech in which she praised
the draft and echoed Kerry’s
words.

“This item affords all
stakeholders a perfect opportunity
to work toward a
solution that, while not perfect,
is just right for consumers
and the future of the
online universe,” she said.

But she also suggested
she would prefer that
the item apply more openness
principles to wireless
broadband. “While I recognize
that there are distinctions
between wired and
wireless networks, I think
it is essential that our wireless
networks — those of the
present and future — grow
in an open way just as our wired ones have.”

The swing vote now appears to belong to Copps, who
has continued to back Genachowski’s original inclination
to reclassify broadband under Title II, arguing for
an even stronger application of common carrier regulations.
He has also talked about applying net-neutrality
regulations to wireless — the draft only applies a couple
— and stronger language on specialized services.
The draft does not apply the regulation to those services,
which strong net neutrality backers argue could allow
networks to favor content, like video streaming services,
delivered over broadband
but not technically on the
public Internet.

Many agree that Copps
will eventually sign on,
though perhaps with a
“scathing assent” making
the point that the commission
could have and should
have gone farther. “The key
is, whenever we see a red
line [correction to the draft],
what has happened,” said
one FCC source. “The Democratic
horse-trading is the
sport for the month.”

Genachowski spoke at
the Federal Communications
Bar Association Chairman’s
dinner about looking
forward to future collaborations
with the commissioners.
But with net neutrality,
that collaboration will be
hard to come by, at least
with Republicans.

Meredith Attwell Baker
said the chairman should
put out the draft for public
consumption immediately
if he wanted to follow
through on his ongoing
pledge of a transparent and
open agency. She said there
was no reason to rush a vote
and that it was an attempt to
score political points with
an item that flew in the face
of the courts and Congress.

A senior FCC official
countered that the agency
had early on released a
text of the proposed rules
and that after “hundreds of
meetings,” workshops and
over 100,000 comments, “we
are hard pressed to think of
an issue that has been more
publicly debated and dissected
than preserving a free and open Internet.” The
official, who asked not to be named, said they were “particularly
perplexed by Commissioner Baker’s call for yet
more time, given that it took her less than 24 hours to read
the order and publicly declare her flat opposition to the
proposal.”

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