The chatter has been growing over the past couple of days that FCC chairman Julius Genachowski could schedule an item codifying network neutrality rules as early as the December meeting.
A top FCC spokesperson calls it speculation from "uninformed sources," but on the strength of that buzz, some top Republicans on the House Energy & Commerce Committee are preparing to send the FCC a letter Friday suggesting that move would not be a great idea, according to a committee source.
It is no news that the chairman has been working on a variety of approaches to both codifying and expanding the FCC's network neutrality guidelines and clarifying its authority for doing to, but in the wake of the collapse of industry and Hill talks on compromise legislation, it was unclear when and how that would happen.
"Net Neutrality is about preventing anyone from regulating the Internet," said an FCC official on background, explaining why network neutrality continued to be a priority for the chairman. "There are some cable and phone companies out there that want to decide which apps you should get on your phone, which Internet sites you should look at, and what online videos you can download. That's regulating the Internet -- and that's what the FCC is trying to stop."
A source close to one commissioner said they were hearing the same buzz from outside the building abou the possible December scheduling, but suggested it was something of an "echo chamber" effect. "We have heard the same rumors, but have nothing concrete," said the source.
"We haven't circulated the December agenda," said Jen Howard, spokesperson for Genachowski. "These rumors from outside, uninformed sources are pure speculation at best."
One telco industry source pointed to Genachowski's statement at a Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco this week that network neutrality rules were on the way as being significant. He said that it was his understanding that the FCC wanted to do something by the end of the year on network neutrality, pointing out that it would then be a month or so before Republicans could flex their oversight muscle.
If the chairman did put an item on the December agenda, he would have to inform the other commissioners by Nov. 24, three weeks before the Dec. 15 meeting date.
Moving the item before the end of the year -- Genachowski has three votes for both clarifying Internet oversight authority and adopting net neutrality rules -- would get it done while the House is still in Democratic hands, but it is unclear how much of an advantage that would be. It would almost certainly prompt Republican pushback either way as witness the planned warning from Republicans Friday.
Fred Upton (R-Mich.), a leading candidate to head the committee overseeing the FCC, has vowed to block net neutrality regs whether or not the FCC has the authority to adopt them. He was expected to be one of the names on the letter to the FCC, as was Joe Barton (R-Tex.) the ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and one of Upton's rivals for chairman of the committee.
But Upton was not waiting for a letter to weigh in. In an e-mailed statement Friday afternoon in response to the reports that the FCC was, in Upton's words "gearing up to circumvent Congress," he said: "I hope that the only turkey cooking next week will be in our kitchens on Thanksgiving and not at the FCC. I am alarmed and disappointed with press reports indicating the FCC will blatantly seek to circumvent Congress and seize authority that they do not have. Rather than poison the well before the new Congress is sworn in, I urge the FCC to stand down on any movement toward net neutrality and work together with the new majority when the 112th Congress convenes in January..."
The buzz has prompted a flurry of pushback from opponents to new network neutrality regs. "FCC Chairman Planning Internet Power Grab Next Month," was the headline on an item in Seton Motley's StopNetRegulation.org. "Genachowski Approaches the Rubicon," was Randolph May's headline in an Multichannel News guest blog.