Opposition grows to net neutrality push, while Sprint, Clearwire voice support

A day after FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski issued a call for an "open Internet," AT&T, Verizon and a handful of Republican lawmakers set in motion their opposition to the net neutrality effort. Meanwhile, upstarts Sprint Nextel and Clearwire broke ranks and voiced tentative approval of the measure.

As for Genachowski's FCC colleagues, the agency's two Democratic commissioners--Michael Copps and Mignon L. Clyburn--said they would endorse formalizing the FCC's net neutrality guidelines, thereby giving the chairman of the five-member commission a majority ahead of what likely will be months of debate on the topic.

Indeed, the action could blossom into a major issue for a wireless industry already buffeted by an FCC investigation into competition, handset exclusivity deals and other issues, as well as a possible separate investigation by the Department of Justice involving similar concerns.

Hours after Genachowski called for "preserving and maintaining something profoundly successful and ensuring that it's not distorted or undermined" in a speech in Washington, D.C., yesterday, AT&T and Verizon issued rebukes.

"We have applauded this FCC for emphasizing that its regulatory decisions would be data-driven," said Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs. "We would thus be very disappointed if it has already drawn a conclusion to regulate wireless services despite the absence of any compelling evidence of problems or abuse that would warrant government intervention." Click here for AT&T's full statement.

"Particularly in today's economy, America cannot afford regulations that may have the unintended consequence of stifling technological innovation, jobs and investment," said Tom Tauke, Verizon's executive vice president of public affairs for policy and communications. Click here for Verizon's full statement.

And opponents to Genachowski's net neutrality effort wasted no time in calling in reinforcements. According to eWeek, just hours after Genachowski's speech Senate Republicans introduced an amendment that would withhold FCC funding for developing or implementing new Internet regulations.

"We must avoid burdensome government regulations that micromanage private businesses or that limit the ability of companies to provide what their customers want," said Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), according to eWeek. "The Internet has flourished in large part because of a lack of government interference; I see no need to change that now."

But statements from both Sprint and Clearwire (which are teaming on a nationwide mobile WiMAX network) appeared to support Genachowski's plan.

"Put simply, Sprint wants customers to be able access the applications and the Internet sites they want, when they want to," Sprint said in a statement. Click here for Sprint's full statement. Echoed Clearwire: "Clearwire's 4G WiMAX technology, business model and operations embody openness for access, applications and devices. Clearwire looks forward to working with the chairman and the commissioners on this proceeding," said Mike Sievert, chief commercial officer for Clearwire. Click here for Clearwire's full statement.

Interestingly, the results of the 700 MHz spectrum auction could stand as a major wrench in the net neutrality push. In that auction there were five spectrum "blocks" up for bid. One of those blocks (the C Block) carried open-access provisions that closely aligned with the FCC's net neutrality stipulations. Only two companies--Google and Verizon Wireless--bid for C-Block spectrum, and it eventually sold for far less than similar spectrum that did not carry the open-access provisions. Now that the FCC is considering imposing net neutrality to all networks, both wireline and wireless, 700 MHz bidders are crying foul.

"For the FCC to now place such requirements on that spectrum so soon after the auction creates the impression of a ‘bait and switch,' and could raise questions about the fairness and integrity of the auction process itself," said AT&T's Cicconi.

For more:
- read full reactions to Genachowski's net neutrality speech
- see this eWeek article
- see this CNet article

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