Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said Wednesday that he is considering a net neutrality plan that would prevent Internet providers from restricting content, but would give them flexibility to manage their networks.
With the Federal Communications Commission chief signaling that he wants to take up net neutrality rules this month, an already intense lobbying campaign by telecommunications giants, high-tech firms and open Internet advocates is sure to become even more feverish.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced his intention Wednesday to consider a plan that would prevent Internet providers from restricting content but would still give broadband providers flexibility to manage their networks and base pricing for services on usage.
The chairman’s announcement followed high-level lobbying from key parties, including the top lobbyists and chief executives of AT&T Inc. and Verizon, who spoke with Genachowski and his top aides in recent days. Interested parties have also submitted comments to the commission, including Allbritton Communications, which owns local television stations WLJA and News Channel 8, as well as Politico and TBD.com, a local website.
The various stakeholders will now try to shape the regulations, which the commission is expected to consider at its Dec. 21 meeting. Interested parties cannot directly lobby the commission within a week of the meeting, but they can still engage in other forms of advocacy, such as advertising.
“Lobbying, visiting, e-mailing, you name it. There will be lots of people making their views known to the FCC,” said Art Brodsky, a spokesman for Public Knowledge, an Internet advocacy group.
Public Knowledge and other open-Internet advocates said the blueprint presented by Genachowski was still too weak, arguing it does not sufficiently address oversight of wireless providers or deal with the legal impediments to regulating the Internet.
With the commission’s two Republican members opposing the regulations, much of the focus will be on two Democratic members, whose support along with Genachowski’s will be needed if the measure is to be approved.
The FCC chairman based his proposal on compromise legislation brokered by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) in September. That plan won the approval of high-tech industry players, as well as AT&T and Verizon.
But House Republicans refused to consider the matter and have indicated they will fight any attempt to regulate the Internet when they assume control of the chamber next year. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), the top Republican on the panel’s Internet subcommittee, sent a letter to the FCC chairman Wednesday questioning his legal authority to impose net neutrality rules.
While officials with the telecommunications companies said they preferred that Congress deal with the issue, they indicated that they would work with the FCC. “We are pleased that the FCC appears to be embracing a compromise solution that is sensitive to the dynamics of investment in a difficult economy and appears to avoid over-regulation,” Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s senior vice president of external and legislative affairs, said in a statement.
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