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FCC seeks more Internet regulation
[June 18, 2010]

FCC seeks more Internet regulation

Jun 18, 2010 (The Dallas Morning News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday began a push for greater regulation of the Internet.

The agency's commissioners voted 3-2 to open for public comment three proposals for how to regulate broadband transmissions and connections. It's the first step in a process that could result in new rules by fall.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski favors an option that would allow for more regulation in some areas but not others.

It's a change that broadband service providers such as Dallas-based AT&T Inc. oppose and say could slow the pace of their investments in new technologies.

But software and Internet companies such as Google Inc. favor the changes, saying the regulations will prevent providers from limiting access to online services they don't like.

The debate stems from a 2007 attempt by Comcast Corp. to slow the Internet connection speeds of its customers who were using a file-sharing technology called Bit Torrent, which is often used to swap pirated movies and music.

In 2008, the FCC ruled that Comcast violated federal policy, and the dispute between the FCC and Comcast went to court. But a federal appeals court ruled this year that broadband providers could not be censured by the FCC for activities such as throttling access speeds.

The FCC doesn't have that authority because, in 2002, the FCC formally defined broadband as a Title I "information service" rather than a Title II "telecommunications service." Classifying broadband as Title II would have put much greater regulatory duties on broadband providers.

One of the three proposals being weighed by the agency is to enforce the Title II FCC regulation. A second option is to maintain the current framework.

Genachowski has acknowledged that bringing the full weight of Title II duties to bear would hamper innovation. So he has proposed his "third way" plan, which essentially combines Title I and Title II into a third classification for broadband.

But that approach hasn't been tried, and there is no explicit authority for the FCC to implement it.

Nor are there established limits for the regulatory duties of broadband providers under a "third way" approach, which would require providers to not interfere with how customers access the Internet.

So AT&T, Verizon and other providers are concerned that, even if the intent is not to heavily regulate now, future commissioners could rewrite the regulatory requirements any way they wish.

"A better and more proper approach is for the FCC to defer the question of its legal authority to the U.S. Congress," Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president of legislative affairs, said in a prepared statement Thursday. "AT&T continues to feel congressional action is far preferable, and far less risky to jobs and investment, than the FCC's current path." Verizon Communications Inc. and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association also want Congress to specify exactly what the FCC is allowed to regulate.

But the FCC says it can't wait for Congress to act.

"The FCC has an obligation to move forward with an open, constructive public-comment process to ask hard questions, to find a solution and resolve the uncertainty that has been created," Genachowski said in his statement after Thursday's vote. "The congressional and FCC processes are complementary." AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson has said heavier regulation could cause his company to stop building its U-verse broadband and TV service.

"If this Title 2 regulation looks imminent, we have to re-evaluate whether we put shovels in the ground," Stephenson told The Wall Street Journal this week.

U-verse is available to 24 million homes, and AT&T plans to push that number to 30 million by the end of 2011.

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