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Editorial: Neutral Territory

10/24/2009 02:00:00 AM Eastern

The FCC has taken network neutrality to the next level, agreeing to launch the process of codifying and expanding its network openness principles. Astroturf groups and think tanks were in overdrive early last week, warning of the dangers of overregulation. But also expressing caution were the Urban League and more than 70 Democratic members of Congress.

Net neutrality fans were dismissing them as all somehow in the pocket of incumbent networks because many had gotten campaign contributions from those companies. But it was not as though some liberal Democrats had reversed course on the issue thanks to well-heeled lobbyists. Many were fiscal conservatives who may have simply decided the awful economy changed the equation. And the fact that companies support legislators with whom they agree does not invalidate their stand on the issue.

We share the view of those who remain unconvinced that the network neutrality rules need to be codified. But if there are to be rules—and the Democrats have three votes to two on the FCC—the chairman is going about it the right way by promising plenty of opportunity for input and enlisting tech types to help determine what exactly is reasonable network management. The proposal will also solicit comment on how openness might be preserved without new regs, though the possibility of the FCC Democrats agreeing to that are somewhere between slim and none.

We think it was a mistake for the commission to waive the prohibitions on lobbying the issue for comments submitted to the FCC's new Internet openness blog.

But after years of contentious meetings, it was a pleasant change to hear the shout-outs the chairman was getting from his “collegial opposition” on the commission, who praised the changes made to the proposal.

Republicans felt blindsided by the chairman's announcement a month ago, but now indicate his office was open to key changes in tone that make the proposal less presumptively regulatory than originally billed. The commission has also agreed to look into how and whether openness rules should apply to managed services like VoIP. That appeals to those who argue that the openness rules should apply to all those innovators at the edge of the net as well as the network gatekeepers.

With a 120-day comment period on the proposal, nothing will happen until probably the middle of next year, maybe longer if the D.C. court decision on Comcast's challenge to the FCC's BitTorrent ruling goes against the FCC. The commission should wait until that decision comes down before setting anything in regulatory stone.


Corrections for the Hall of Fame supplement, Oct. 19 issue:

Patrick Esser replaced Jim Robbins as Cox Communications' president.

Alfred Liggins is the chairman of TV One, whose president is Johnathan Rodgers.

David Verklin built Aegis Media Americas' billings to nearly $7 billion annually.

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