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FCC Push on Net Neutrality Ramps Up Lobbying

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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.

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.

A statement by Tom Tauke, Verizon’s executive vice president for public affairs, policy and communication, urged the commissioners “to recognize the limitations of the current statute and the rapidly changing conditions in the marketplace and make any rules it adopts interim, rather than specific.” Verizon has said it wants a two-year sunset provision in any rule.

Comcast, which recently won a federal lawsuit in which it questioned the FCC’s authority to impose net neutrality rules, supported the chairman’s plan.

“We believe Chairman Genachowski’s proposal strikes us as a workable balance between the needs of the marketplace and the certainty that carefully-crafted and limited rules can provide to ensure that Internet freedom and openness are preserved,” Comcast Vice President David Cohen said.

IBM also gave its support to the proposal. “Today’s announcement by the FCC represents a prudent and balanced approach to managing the growing volume of traffic on the Internet,” Christopher Padilla, IBM’s vice president for government programs, said in a statement.

However, Free Press, an open Internet advocacy group, slammed the proposal in a press release headlined “Is the FCC Peddling Fake Net Neutrality?”

Officials from trade associations, companies and advocacy groups have been in regular contact with FEC commissioners and staffers to try and influence the outcome since the beginning of November.

AT&T officials reported 10 contacts with commission officials since the beginning of November, according to FCC records, including a discussion Sunday between Cicconi; Robert Quinn, the company’s chief privacy officer and senior vice president of federal regulatory; Genachowski’s chief of staff, Edward Lazarus; and Josh Gottheimer, the chairman’s senior counselor.

AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson had a phone conversation Nov. 23 with Genachowski to discuss the issue, the records show.

Verizon’s Tauke spoke with Lazarus by phone Monday, and Verizon Chairman and CEO Ivan Seidenberg had a phone conversation on Nov. 24 with Genachowski, according to FCC records.

Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said her company did its lobbying through the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. The trade association’s president, Kyle McSlarrow, discussed the issue with Lazarus on Nov. 22.

Bruce Mehlman, a GOP lobbyist, said it is not surprising that industry officials are making their case before the FCC.

“When a legislative agency has that much power over your business, you make it a priority to make sure they hear your side of the story,” he said. Considering that the FCC has been considering net neutrality rules for two years, Mehlman said he doubted that outside parties could make substantial changes to the plan at this point.

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