The FCC Pleases No One With Net-Neutrality Proposal

Genachowski unveils his new watered-down plan

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Today in Washington, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski is pitching his revised plans for new regulations on Internet service providers (ISPs). In the past year, Genachowski has faced staunch opposition from Congress and the telecom industry for trying to introduce "net neutrality" rules. Loosely defined, the rules have aimed to prevent ISPs from discriminating against certain types of Internet content by loading speeds or fees (especially from competing companies or websites). Genachowski's new proposal, which was leaked to the press, gives the FCC significantly less power to regulate ISPs and yet, Verizon, Comcast * and AT&T will likely oppose the new rules.
The proposal will allow broadband providers to impose usage-based charges so that customers using more bandwidth would get charged more than customers using less. The FCC will also allow providers to experiment with offering specialized services that could provide higher-quality access to consumers rather than sending applications and content over the public Internet... And broadband companies cannot discriminate against traffic on the public Internet in favor of their own services or their customers' premium services.
  • This Is Fence-Walking, writes Kari Bode at Broadband:
In typical Genachowski fashion, the FCC head appears eager to please everybody -- and in the process will please nobody. While there will be some complaining by Libertarians about there being any rules whatsoever -- there shouldn't be. Unenforceable rules demanding carriers do what they're already doing voluntarily aren't really rules at all. They're showmanship. If the rules are as paper thin as they appear, the real winner will be carriers, and the losers will be consumers. A Genachowski speech later on this morning (live stream here) will officially begin the FCC process of dressing up AT&T's preferred neutrality approach as a huge win for consumers.
  • The Telcos Won Some Concessions, writes Phil Goldstein at Fierce Wireless:
Importantly, the plan does not call for the reclassification of broadband under Title II of the Telecommunications Act as a common-carrier service. That proposal, which Genachowski first floated in May, was vehemently opposed by Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and the CTIA. Since then, AT&T, Verizon and other carriers have aggressively lobbied the FCC on the issue, as have proponents of net neutrality, including public interest groups and the Open Internet Coalition, which represents the likes of Google and Amazon.
The new proposal is not likely to satisfy either side in the debate. Broadband providers are likely to still find some of the provisions too restrictive. Some companies have suggested that Congress should write new rules and make them law rather than having the FCC handle it. Consumer groups are also not likely to be satisfied with the outcome, because they were looking for the FCC to do more.
  • No Clear Winner, writes Amy Schatz at The Wall Street Journal:
It's not clear who wins under Mr. Genachowski's proposal. Phone and cable companies would prefer no net neutrality rules and have suggested Congress should write them, not the FCC. Public advocates say the proposal won't necessarily protect consumers and is unlikely to withstand a court challenge.

Industry lobbyists for AT&T, Verizon Communications Inc. and the cable companies have spent hours with Mr. Genachowski's aides in private meetings to influence the agency's final net-neutrality rules. A coalition of Internet companies, including Google Inc. and Inc., have also weighed in along with consumer groups.

*Apparently, the telecom industry is going to be less resistant than pundits thought. Comcast VP Sena Fitzmaurice sends an e-mail praising Genachowski's proposal:

We believe Chairman Genachowski's proposal, as described this morning, strikes 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.

By taking an approach that is similar to that which was negotiated last fall by key legislators, Internet content and application companies, broadband ISPs, and other stakeholders, we believe there should be a strong consensus for the Chairman's approach.  Most importantly, the approach the Chairman has outlined will remove the cloud that Title II regulation of broadband would place over continued innovation and investment in the Internet...
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.