Washington

Industry Minds Appear To Be Meeting Over Net Neutrality

Parties face Sept. 2 deadline for FCC meeting agenda 8/31/2010 10:35:21 AM Eastern

Progress continues to be made in talks about compromise
legislative language clarifying the FCC's ability to oversee Internet access.
That is according to sources familiar with the talks, who added that it
remained a work in progress.

Analyst Stifel Nicolaus, in a note to investors obtained by B&C, described it as a general
agreement that included concessions on wireless network neutrality by
operators, commitments to a robust "public Internet," and an
"expanded" FCC role.

After FCC-brokered talks broke off in the wake of a separate
accord between Google and Verizon on a net neutrality policy framework,
industry talks continued.

The FCC-hosted talks ended after news that Google and Verizon had
come to a meeting of the minds on basic network neutrality principles
that
included prioritizing traffic through managed services that do not travel over
the public Internet and agreeing not to apply most of those principles to
wireless broadband.

The Information Technology Industry Council, whose members include
Microsoft, Dell and Cisco, is now hosting the talks
, which include AT&T,
Verizon, Skype and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

Thursday is the FCC deadline for signaling what FCC Chairman
Julius Genachowski plans to put on the agenda for the Sept. 23 meeting and
circulating a draft of a Title II reclassification to the other commissioners
if that will be on there.

If industry parties are sufficiently close to a deal, it
would make sense for them to wrap it up before Thursday to give the chairman
more options.

Stifel Nicolaus analyst Rebecca Arbogast said in the
note, which was first reported by The
Hill
, that she sees four potential options for the FCC. The chairman
could 1) float the draft but potentially withdraw it before the meeting
depending on the reaction; 2) cite progress in the industry talks and delay the
order until after the elections; 3) seek public comment on an industry
agreement (if there is one); or 4) impose network neutrality rules tied to
Title I authority.

But she also sees the downsides to a legislative route being the
uncertainty of support from Congress if the Republicans make big gains, and the
expected pushback on an industry agreement from public interest groups.

"Bottom line," she said, "we see the situation as
unstable, with a Title II order as increasingly unattractive, but the other
exit strategies as remaining problematic."

March