Congress, Net Neutrality Players Praise Open Process, Debate Principles

Senators Rockefeller, Waxman re-state support, McSlarrow calls for "healthy skepticism"
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The FCC's vote Thursday to consider new and newly codified network neutrality rules prompted a flood of comments matched only by the flood of advice it got from both
sides of the debate in the days leading up to the vote.

Most of it centered on praise for an open process and thorough vetting of the issues and everyone agreed that the Internet should be open, what that means and how it is maintained, achieved, and secured remains the gray area in which the debate will continue.

The chairmen of the House and Senate Commerce Committees, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), in a joint letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, said they supported the effort "to conduct this rulemaking in an open and transparent manner that is fair to all parties. We expect that the Commission will make every effort to consider all voices prior to voting on final rules," they said. Both also said their support for "policies that protect consumers and promote an open Internet" had not changed.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), former chair of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee and co-sponsor of a bill that would legislate network neutrality, shared FCC Commissioner Michael Copps' view that it was a historic step. "The Internet enables innovation without permission, and we need to ensure that special interests cannot
erect toll booths on the information superhighway that impede the innovation that has helped power our economy and create jobs," he said.

Senators Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Me.), co-sponsors of Senate network neutrality legislation in the last Congress, were equally pleased. "We commend the FCC for beginning the process to examine the issue today, as these fundamental protections are critical to ensuring Internet freedom and openness. We encourage all stakeholders and the public to participate in this rulemaking so that the Commission will have the necessary information to develop sound policy," they said.

"Today's vote was the first step toward establishing enforceable protections for consumers accessing the Internet, said Markham Erickson, executive director of the Open Internet Coalition (Google, Ebay and others). "Under the Chairman's leadership, we have cleared the first hurdle in this process, and are on the road towards creating a framework that promotes innovation and consumer choice on the Internet."

Not everyone was bringing out the pom-poms for network neutrality, however. Randolph May, president of free market think tank, the Free State Foundation, suggested some Lewis Carrol quality to the proceedings. "The FCC's launch of a rulemaking proceeding to adopt new Internet regulations stands out as an example of a proposed regulation in search of a problem that will then search for a solution to address the non-problem," he said, a sentiment shared by the Republicans on the commission who voted to support the process of the proceeding, but not the FCC's justification for undertaking it.

Sharing the Republican minority's skepticism was National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow. While joining the chorus of praise for an open and transparent process, he advised the commission to employ a "healthy skepticism of hypothetical harms" and a realization of what the unintended consequences of its actions could be, including to "investment, job creation, and the continued expansion and improvement of next generation networks." He assured them that NCTA would be part of that open and transparent process, making its case for government restraint.

At the FCC meeting, Genachowski said he, too, was looking for restraint, which he argued included concentrating on ISP's rather than applications, and by adopting a network management rule that could obviate the need for government action by establishing clearer rules of the road.

Steve Largent, president of CTIA: The Wireless Association, praised the FCC for recognizing that wireless is different and for asking the questions of how, when and to what extent they need to apply to wireless as well as wired broadband. But he warned that "whatever the case may be for applying rules to other platforms, applying these rules to mobile wireless broadband services during a period of dynamic innovation and change in the wireless ecosystem could have significant unintended consequences."

"Sprint Nextel shares the Federal Communications Commission's laudable goal of ensuring the continued openness of the Internet and providing consumers the services and content they want, when and where they want it," said the company's senior VP of government affairs, Vonya McCann. "The challenge, however, will be ensuring that any proposed rules achieve this goal without creating unintended consequences or clogged networks."

AT&T Senior Executive VP Jim Cicconi said his company wants an open Internet and a level playing field that benefits consumers and spurs investment, innovation and jobs and says he is "encouraged" by the proposal compared with original reports (the proposal announced Thursday was changed somewhat from the original after input from industry and other commissioners, including removing "tentative conclusion" language and adding questions about how Internet openness might be preserved without new rules, for example. It also will look at whether and how openness rules should apply to managed services like Google Voice.

"Over the past several weeks, we and many others have expressed concern that the FCC's original NPRM, as reported, would be significantly at odds with these objectives. Today's action by the FCC has allayed a number of our concerns, and while there are crucial issues remaining, we are encouraged by the Commission's action. In particular, we appreciate that Chairman Genachowski has demonstrated that he is open to the industry's concerns and willing to address those he feels have merit."

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