Powell to Cable: Protect Internet Freedom

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In a blunt message to the cable industry, Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell said Sunday that the owners of high-speed Internet networks would invite regulation if they frustrated the ability of consumers to make full use of the Web.

Powell -- who has made broadband deployment a top goal -- used a speech in Boulder, Colo., to enunciate "Four Freedoms" that he urged cable operators to embrace in order to preserve the almost uninhibited freedom consumers have enjoyed since roaming the Web became a widespread consumer activity late last decade.

"It is time to give the private sector a clear road map by which it can avoid future regulation on this issue by embracing unparalleled openness and consumer choice," Powell told the Silicon Flatirons Symposium.

Cable operators serve about 15 million high-speed-data subscribers, or more than 60% of the residential market.

A business coalition that includes Microsoft Corp., Amazon.com Inc. (www.amazon.com) and Yahoo! Inc. (www.yahoo.com) has urged the FCC to adopt rules so that cable can't use its alleged market power to injure Web firms’ ties to consumers. Cable has called regulation unnecessary and counterproductive.

Powell said he wasn't currently prepared to support regulation, adding that evidence for it was "unconvincing and speculative." Rather, he said, the wiser course was for broadband-network providers to guarantee that consumers enjoy:

· Freedom to access legal content;

· Freedom to run any application that won't harm the network;

· Freedom to attach any device that does not abet crime; and

· Freedom to obtain meaningful information about service plans.

Consumers, Powell said, should challenge broadband providers to live up to his standards and notify the FCC if the industry is failing to do so.