Genachowski's net neutrality proposal draws mixed reaction

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's proposed net neutrality rules ignited a firestorm of criticism from proponents of net neutrality as well as from Republicans in Congress and Genachowski's fellow Republican commissioners. However, many companies in the wireless and telecommunications industry offered cautious praise for the plan.

The proposal, which goes light on wireless carriers, will be circulated to other commissioners, and will likely be changed before it is voted on at the FCC's Dec. 21 meeting. Under the plan, wireless carriers would be prohibited from blocking services like Google Voice and Skype that compete with their own voice and video offerings. However, wireless carriers would not face the same restrictions wired operators would on blocking Web traffic and other applications--a ban on unreasonable discrimination in transmitting lawful network traffic. Importantly, the plan does not call for the reclassification of broadband under Title II of the Telecommunications Act as a common-carrier service.

The plan for wireless networks includes transparency requirements on network management policies and a basic "no-blocking" rule. Genachowski said the FCC would closely monitor the development of mobile broadband and "be prepared to step in to further address anti-competitive or anti-consumer conduct as appropriate."

CTIA greeted the proposal with wary optimism. "While we maintain our belief that any action in this area is unnecessary in the dynamic and rapidly evolving wireless environment, we understand and are pleased that the proposed rules have moved away from broad Title II regulation and toward a more tailored approach that recognizes the unique nature of wireless services," CTIA President Steve Largent said in a statement. "The wireless ecosystem moves at a startling pace, and if new rules are adopted, they should be reviewed in two years."

Ardent proponents of net neutrality, like the public interest group Free Press, denounced the plan as "fake" net neutrality. However, another public interest group, Public Knowledge, praised the plan.

FCC commissioners were largely split along party lines. "It's no secret that I am looking for the strongest protections we can get to preserve an open Internet, built on the most secure legal foundation, so we don't find ourselves in court every other month," Democratic commissioner Michael Copps said in a statement. The two Republican commissioners, Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker, voiced strong opposition to the plan, while Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn said she looked forward to working with her colleagues on the proposal.

Among telcos and wireless carriers, the opinion was also somewhat muddled. Tom Tauke, Verizon's (NYSE:VZ) top policy executive, said that "the FCC's authority to act in this area is uncertain, and Congress has indicated a strong interest in addressing this issue." He said any rules should be temporary and that Congress should act. 

AT&T (NYSE:T), which has lobbied heavily against onerous net neutrality rules, was largely pleased. "While any final statement of position by AT&T must await a careful reading of the actual order and rules when issued, we are pleased that the FCC appears to be embracing a compromise solution that is sensitive to the dynamics of investment in a difficult economy and appears to avoid over-regulation," the company said in a statement.

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), for its part, praised the plan, calling it "a fair and balanced approach to a difficult issue."  

For more:
- see this NYT article
- see this AllThingsD article

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