FTC To Study Net Neutrality

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The Federal Trade Commission is forming a task force to examine converging technology and regulation, including network neutrality, but does not appear inclined to support regulations mandating it absence evidence of market failure.

Calling network neutrality "the most hotly debated issue in communications," FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras says proponents of mandating it as part of a telecommunications law rewrite have not made their case to the commission. "Thus far, proponents of net neutrality regulation have not come to us to explain where the market is failing or what anticompetitive conduct we should challenge; we are open to hearing from them,” she told a Progress and Freedom Foundation summit crowd in Aspen, Colo.

Majoras said that while the task force will look "carefully" at the issue of network neutrality--broadly network nondiscrimination in the provision of Internet access and service--she urged caution, saying she questioned the assumption that government regulation, rather than market forces, is "the best solution to the problem."

"We should look at whether any net neutrality or similar legislation could have the effect of entrenching existing broadband platforms and market positions, as well as adversely affecting the levels and areas of future innovation and investment in this industry," she said. "The end result could be a diminution, rather than an increase, in competition, to the detriment of consumers."

Echoing the promises of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and congressional Republicans in particular, Majoras said that "if broadband providers engage in anticompetitive conduct, we will not hesitate to act using our existing authority." But she said that the FTC has yet to be presented with a market failure case that justifies tough regs.

The, Its Our Net Coalition,  backed by big computer companies including Microsoft, ebay, Google, Yahoo! and a veritable host of others, responded to Majoras' announcement of the task force in a statement e-mailed to reporters: "We agree that competition is clearly an important issue in the Net Neutrality debate. As consumers know and data from the Federal Communications Commission bears out, more than 99 percent of broadband access is controlled by the phone and cable companies. That does not constitute anything like a competitive market. That is a failed market."

The FCC has also scheduled a Nov. 6-8 conference on consumer protection in the new-tech age.

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