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The net neutrality debate is stirring up passions across the spectrum from an order of Benedictine nuns in Kansas to lobbying giants such as AT&T, whose staff handed out gourmet cupcakes at the Federal Communications Commission building Wednesday.
Driving the flurry of activity is the FCC’s intention to vote on a final plan on net neutrality at its Dec. 21 meeting. The various sides made their closing pitches to the five-member commission Tuesday, the deadline for outside interests to submit comments or lobby on the proposed regulations.
Open-Internet advocacy groups are urging the FCC to take a bolder stand on enforcing net neutrality even as telecommunications executives have lobbied the federal regulators to proceed cautiously — or not at all.
Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski unveiled a compromise plan modeled after legislation crafted by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). The plan would prevent Internet providers from restricting content but still give broadband providers flexibility to manage their networks and base pricing for services on usage. The Waxman plan had drawn the support of a variety of stakeholders including high-tech companies as well as Verizon and AT&T.
But 13 open-Internet advocates met last week with FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democratic appointee who is crucial to passage of the plan, to express their opposition to the compromise.
The groups, which include Consumers Union, Public Knowledge, the New America Foundation, Netflix Inc. and Skype, are concerned that the new regulations won’t cover wireless broadband and will allow providers to engage in base pricing for services. Some of these advocates also want the FCC to reclassify broadband as a telephone service, which would subject it to a broader regulation.
Art Brodsky, the spokesman for Public Knowledge, said that Genachowski had fashioned a compromise intended to deflect political opposition from Republicans and satisfy telecommunications giants. But Brodsky added that no matter what plan the chairman devised, he will still be attacked by Republicans on Capitol Hill and therefore should put forward the strongest regulations possible.
“The chairman wanted something that would insulate him politically, but whatever he comes up with, he will get smacked up,” Brodsky said.
The Cupcake Lobby
Brodsky took a lighthearted swipe at AT&T in an e-mail that noted the company’s staff had been going through the FCC building Wednesday giving out what he described as “dozens and dozens of Georgetown Cupcakes — the very rich, very good ones that cost $29/dozen.”
“It will be a nice treat for the first day of deliberations on Net Neutrality,” said the e-mail, which was titled “Federal Cupcake Commission.”
AT&T quickly sought to defuse the cupcake controversy.