The chatter has been growing over the past couple
of days that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski could schedule an item
codifying network neutrality rules as early as the December meeting. A top FCC
spokesperson calls it speculation from "uninformed sources," but on the
strength of that buzz, some top Republicans on the House Energy & Commerce
Committee are preparing to send the FCC a letter Friday suggesting that move
would not be a great idea, according to a committee source.
It is no news that the chairman has been working
on a variety of approaches to both codifying and expanding the FCC's network
neutrality guidelines and clarifying its authority for doing so, but in the
wake of the collapse of industry and Hill talks on compromise legislation, it
was unclear when and how that would happen."Net Neutrality is about preventing anyone from regulating the Internet," said an FCC official on background, explaining why network neutrality continued to be a priority for the chairman. "There are some cable and phone companies out there that want to decide which apps you should get on your phone, which Internet sites you should look at, and what online videos you can download. That's regulating the Internet -- and that's what the FCC is trying to stop."
A source close to one commissioner said they were
hearing the same buzz from outside the building, but suggested it was something
of an "echo chamber" effect. "We have heard the same rumors, but
have nothing concrete," said the source.
"We haven't circulated the December agenda,"
said Jen Howard, spokesperson for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. "These
rumors from outside, uninformed sources are pure speculation at best."
One telco industry source pointed
to Genachowski's statement at a Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco this
week that network neutrality rules were on the way as being significant. He
said that it was his understanding that the FCC wanted to do something by the
end of the year on network neutrality, pointing out that it would then be a
month or so before Republicans could flex their oversight muscle.
If the chairman did put an item on the December
agenda, he would have to inform the other commissioners by Nov. 24, three weeks
before the Dec. 15 meeting date.
Moving the item before the end of the
year--Genachowski has three votes for both clarifying Internet oversight
authority and adopting net neutrality rules--would get it done while the House
is still in Democratic hands, but it is unclear how much of an advantage that
would be. It would almost certainly prompt Republican pushback either way as
witnessed by the planned warning from Republicans Friday.
Fred Upton (R-Mich.), a leading candidate to head
the committee overseeing the FCC, has vowed to block net neutrality regs
whether or not the FCC has the authority to adopt them. He was expected to be
one of the names on the letter to the FCC, as was Joe Barton (R-Tex.), the ranking
member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and one of Upton's rivals
for chairman of the committee.
But Upton was not waiting for a letter to weigh in. In an e-mailed statement Friday afternoon in response to the reports that the FCC was, in Upton's words "gearing up to circumvent Congress," he said: "I hope that the only turkey cooking next week will be in our kitchens on Thanksgiving and not at the FCC. I am alarmed and disappointed with press reports indicating the FCC will blatantly seek to circumvent Congress and seize authority that they do not have. Rather than poison the well before the new Congress is sworn in, I urge the FCC to stand down on any movement toward net neutrality and work together with the new majority when the 112th Congress convenes in January..."
The buzz has also prompted a flurry of pushback from
opponents to new network neutrality regs. "FCC Chairman Planning Internet
Power Grab Next Month," was the headline on an item in Seton Motley's
StopNetRegulation.org. "Genachowski Approaches the Rubicon," was
Randolph May's headline in a guest blog for B&C.