Washington

New Round of Talks In Broadband Regulation Debate

ITIC said to be hosting latest negotiations with industry players 8/23/2010 02:30:40 PM Eastern

After three days of meetings last week, tech companies and cable
and phone nets continued to search for targeted legislation that would
clarify the FCC's authority over broadband regulation.

An official announcement about the latest talks, first reported in
the Wall Street Journal, was expected this week, but no word at press time.

Industry players had signaled that the breakdown of FCC-hosted
meetings earlier this month
did not signal the end of the negotiation process.
But backers of the FCC proposal to apply some Title II common carrier regs
to broadband transmissions to provide a legal underpinning to overseeing
access, network management and transparency called the continued talks just
more back-room dealing.

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, are now hosting the talks at their Washington
offices, according to sources familiar with the negotiations. Also part of the
talks are AT&T, Verizon, Skype and the National Cable &
Telecommunications Association.

Microsoft's
view on network neutrality has been evolving with the evolution in online
services, the company has conceded. It told the FCC last April that with
"very few exceptions" Internet access providers had managed their
networks reasonably and without "widespread or insurmountable"
challenges to an open net. It also was not ready to rule out all forms of
discrimination. "[A]doption of unnecessary or insufficiently tailored
regulations, such as a prohibition on all types of discrimination, could have
'the unintended consequence of limiting innovation and investment going
forward.'"

Reportedly new to the talks is the Communications Workers of
America, while Google and the Open Internet Coalition, which had been in the
FCC talks, are said by various sources not to be a part of the new discussions.
An OIC member company confirmed it had not been invited. Google and
CWA spokespeople had not returned calls/e-mails for comment at press time.

CWA has been on the record along with other unions
backing targeted legislation as the solution the FCC's regulatory
uncertainty, the result of a federal appeals court decision that the FCC had
not justified its regulatory smackdown of Comcast over its blocking of peer-to-peer file transfers by
BitTorrent.

In its filings on the FCC's so-called "third way" title
II reclassification proposal, CWA argued that the approach left unsettled and
unsettling legal questions that would result in court challenges and delay. The
union supports an open Internet, but also is concerned about job losses if
networks are discouraged from investing in their networks.

If a consensus legislative fix fails to materialize, FCC
Chairman Julius Genachowski has support from his Democratic majority for
reclassification and could put the item on the agenda for the FCC's September
monthly public meeting, which was moved back a week from Sept. 16 to Sept. 23.
But October or later may be a more likely date given the pushback from some in
Congress on a September move. Since the move does not require issuing new
rules, the FCC can simply declare broadband transmissions to be under Title II,
rather than have to issue a rulemaking that would require further public
comment before a vote.

Free press called the new talks "no substitute for
responsible policymaking." Aparna Sridhar, policy counsel for the
group, which also took issue with the FCC-hosted talks, said they not been
asked to participate in ITIC-hosted talks. Free Press is a member of OIC, which
was at the table for the FCC talks, but it did not have a separate
representative, as did OIC members Skype and Google.

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