Commentary

Advocates Lobby For Stronger FCC Net Neutrality Plan

With the Federal Communications Commission readying to vote on a net neutrality compromise put forward by Chairman Julius Genachowski, some advocates are stepping up lobbying efforts aimed at strengthening the measure.

A group of neutrality proponents including representatives from Netflix, the Writers Guild West, Consumers Union, Public Knowledge and Free Press recently told Commissioner Michael Copps of their "unanimous unwillingness" to support Genachowski's plan -- itself based on a proposed law floated by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

"During the meeting, the participants discussed the inadequacies of adopting, without major modification, the legislative compromise that had been proposed by Chairman Henry Waxman," the groups said today in a filing about the meeting.

Earlier this month, Genachowski proposed that the FCC adopt a neutrality rule along the lines suggested by Waxman. Genachowski's measure would prohibit wireline Internet service providers from blocking traffic or from engaging in unreasonable discrimination, while also requiring them to inform consumers about traffic management practices. But the proposal would impose far looser requirements on wireless broadband providers.

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Genachowski's plan has come in for criticism for several reasons.

First, neutrality advocates say that wireless carriers should be subject to the same open Internet rules as wireline providers.

Additionally, Genachowski isn't currently proposing to reclassify broadband access as a Title II "telecommunications" service. But advocates say that the agency is leaving itself vulnerable to legal challenges by attempting to enact neutrality requirements without first reclassifying broadband access, given the well-publicized Comcast case. (In that matter, an appellate court ruled that the FCC lacked authority to sanction Comcast for violating neutrality principles because the agency had classified broadband as an information service.)

Some of the neutrality advocates who met with Copps had previously supported Waxman's plan -- which would have expired after two years. But, they told Copps, there's a big difference between legislation, which would have imposed minimum requirements and an FCC rule: "It was noted in particular that the Waxman proposal was a temporary measure, premised on the understanding that the FCC would address details and ambiguities when it implemented the law," the advocates said.

The FCC is expected to take up Genachowski's proposal at its Dec. 21 meeting.

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