Net Action at FCC Shifts Into Neutral

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Washington —The Federal Communications Commission
has put off any action on expanding and codifying
its network-neutrality guidelines until at least December
and likely into next year — regardless of what
happens with Title II reclassification of broadband service
— and the industry might have Google and Verizon
Communications to thank for it.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski last week said the
commission would seek more advice on the proposal, specifically
looking at how and to what extent to apply those rules
to mobile broadband providers, and whether to allow specialized
services that could bypass both the public Internet
and openness rules.

Some opponents of Title II reclassification read it as a
sign the FCC would also delay that effort, which has gotten
pushback from Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
But public-interest groups pushing the FCC to reclassify
said it meant nothing of the sort.

One thing it did seem to officially signal was that industry
stakeholders in talks, at the FCC and elsewhere, reached agreement
on a regulatory framework addressing the vast majority of
issues, a framework they hope supersedes a Title II move.

Genachowski said last fall he wanted to codify the FCC’s existing
four principles and add ones on customer transparency
— tell subscribers how you are managing their Internet access
— and nondiscrimination against content or applications.

The proposal also asked whether wireless broadband
should be treated differently — suggesting it might need
to be — and whether paid prioritization for specialized services
should be allowed — suggesting it shouldn’t.

That effort got sidetracked by the BitTorrent court decision
calling into question the FCC’s regulatory authority
over those issues.

With industry players close to their own agreement on
many of those proposals, the FCC now wants to drill down
on mobile broadband, which it sees as a big player in deployment
going forward, and specialized services, particularly
after Google and Verizon announced they supported
exempting mobile from most openness rules and allowing
specialized services.

As for the Title II reclassification effort, the FCC sent a signal
not to look for it until at least October. The commission issued
its tentative agenda for the September public meeting and Title
II was nowhere to be seen. Genachowski has proposed reclassifying
broadband transmission as a common-carrier service,
at least to the extent it can justify Internet openness oversight,
like the net-neutrality guidelines he wants to codify.

Advocacy groups continued to push for Title II, arguing
last week that the call for comment did not preclude that
action. “Nothing in this public notice prevents the FCC
from taking prompt action on its ‘Third Way’ proceeding,”
Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn said.

A senior FCC official speaking on background said that
“all options are on the table.”

“The FCC staff is busy reviewing and analyzing an extensive
record of more than 50,000 comments in the broadband
framework proceeding, which only closed a few weeks
ago. Securing a solid legal foundation for broadband policy
is too important an issue to rush,” the official said.

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