FCC Gets Earful On Further Inquiries On Net Neutrality


Reaction was swift and mixed to the Federal Communications Commission's release Wednesday of a request for further comment on its proposed codification and expansion of network neutrality guidelines.

The commission said there was growing agreement, or at least a "narrowing of disagreement" on the majority of its proposals, but that two sticky issues remained that needed more vetting: applying them to mobile broadband and allowing specialized services.

Contributing to that meeting of the minds that the FCC cited has been stakeholder meetings both at the commission and elsewhere involving among others, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and AT&T.

"We remain strong in our belief that there is a reasonable path forward to establish a framework that preserves a free and open Internet, protects consumers, and encourages the investment and innovation needed to deploy next-generation broadband networks and new products and services on the Internet," said NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow. "We will continue to work constructively with the Commission, Congress and other stakeholders to accomplish this goal. The public notice issued today raises important and complex issues and we will provide our input."

AT&T was on the same page. "We have participated constructively throughout the Commission's open Internet proceeding, and will continue to do so," said AT&T senior executive vice president Jim Cicconi. "We've worked hard to find common ground on these difficult issues and feel good progress has been made. In particular, we feel a path can be found that addresses concerns about Internet openness, while at the same time preserving jobs and protecting needed investment."

CTIA: The Wireless Association said it was pleased with the request for comment. "We are happy the Chairman and the Commissioners realize that wireless is different. We will continue to work with them to explain why these rules are unnecessary and should not be applied to the wireless ecosystem," said CTIA president Steve Largent.

Notd US Telecom president Walter McCormick Jr.: "We welcome Chairman Genachowski's request for further comment as being pragmatic and wholly consistent with his commitment to employ a data-driven approach to regulation. Since there are no imminent threats to the open and robust Internet that consumers enjoy today, it is prudent for the Chairman to make sure that the Commission proceeds in a way that is fully-informed, measured, and avoids doing any harm to this dynamic sector. "

Free Press didn't share those sentiments.

"The FCC continues to kick the can down the road and prolong this process," noted the group's research director Derek Turner. "It is time for the FCC to stop writing notices and start making clear rules of the road. The phone and cable companies have shown us what the Internet will look like if they are allowed to write their own rules and build a two-tiered Internet with fast and slow lanes and zero protections on mobile broadband. We don't need more questions from the FCC, we need more answers."

Matt Wood, associate director of Media Access Project, echoed those sentiments, as well as those of Elvis Presley, when he sang about a little less talk and a little more action.

"Recent events prove that giant companies left to regulate themselves will craft rules full of loopholes and exceptions that benefit their own interest, not the public interest," he said. "The Commission asks the same questions time and time again about wireless broadband services and specialized services, instead of providing basic answers on the basis of the robust record it already has compiled. "
""The FCC's decision to seek further comment in its Open Internet proceeding before acting is wise, and Chairman Genachowski deserves credit for taking this step," said Randolph May of the Free State Foundation. "While I might disagree with the characterization of the degree to which the issues have been narrowed, it is certainly fair to say that there has been some bridging of previous divides. May, who has opposed the FCC's so-called "Third Way" proposal to reclassify broadband as a Title II common carrier service, said he assumed that the commission will not proceed on that front while it is collecting comments on its network neutrality rulemaking.

Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge and a fan of reclassification, saw it differently. "Nothing in this public notice prevents the FCC from taking prompt action on its ‘Third Way' proceeding," she said, "which would make certain all Americans have affordable access to broadband, and to make sure it can deal with public safety and other crucial issues that are broader than the narrow issues on which the Commission seeks comment."

Turner agreed, saying that the announcement should do nothing to delay reclassification, before explaining that would have to come before the network neutrality rules were adopted anyway. Reclassification is the way the FCC plans to establish its authority over the kind of broadband oversight it is asserting in the net neutrality proposal.
The FCC has provided 30 days for comment and 55 days for response. That clock does not start until the proposal is printed in the Federal Register, which means a likely December deadline for those comments.