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5/7/2010
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Net Neutrality Battle Lines Form Over FCC 'Third Way' Plan

The usual suspects on both sides of the FCC's broadband plan have weighed in with praise and complaints for FCC chairman Julius Genachowski's "Third Way" proposal for net neutrality.

Carriers don't like FCC chairman Julius Genachowski's "Third Way" proposal for net neutrality because it would bring them under increased regulation by classifying broadband as a "telecommunications service." Public interest groups generally maintain Gonachowski's approach would lead to delivery of faster broadband services to more Americans including many who have been shortchanged in rural areas.

Although outvoted on the five-member Commission, the two Republican commissioners -- Robert McDowell and Meredith Baker -- issued a statement criticizing the Genachowski plan.

"After several government investigations, no evidence of systemic failure in the broadband market has been presented to justify this new, more onerous regulatory regime," McDowell and Baker said. "An attempt to foist burdensome rules excavated from the early-Ma Bell-monopoly era onto 21st Century networks will usher in a tumultuous new age of regulatory uncertainty that will inhibit the investment of risk capital America badly needs to improve and expand our broadband infrastructure and create jobs."

The Republicans added that appellate courts are likely to again rebuke the FCC effort in a reference to the Washington Appeals court that recently sided with Comcast against the FCC on net neutrality. "Government agencies simply cannot create new legal powers beyond those granted by Congress," they said.

The FCC has submitted its National Broadband Plan to Congress where it is likely to be vigorously debated. Genachowski seems assured of support from leading Democratic lawmakers in telecommunications like Senator John D. Rockefeller and Congressmen Henry Waxman and Rick Boucher. The upcoming congressional elections could change the landscape if the Republicans regain control of Congress, however.

AT&T and Verizon Communications criticized Genachowski's plan, which the FCC chairman termed a "third way" that would have a "restrained approach" to delivering broadband.

In a statement, Verizon executive vice president of public affairs Tom Tauke said, "We believe the chairman's stated approach is legally unsupported. The regulatory and judicial proceedings that will ensue can only bring confusion and delay the important work of continuing to build the nation's broadband future."

Also complaining about the Genachowski plan was AT&T's senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs Jim Cicconi. He said, "The fact remains that this approach would subject Internet facilities to some of the most onerous regulatory provisions on the books."

The battle was immediately joined by Free Press research director Derek Turner who said: "AT&T continues its campaign of spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about policies needed to keep companies like it from harming consumers…The FCC is not proposing to regulate CNN.com or hulu.com; it is merely placing light-touch rules of the road on the few powerful incumbents that control the duopoly broadband access market."

The opposing sides are just warming up in the wake of Genachowski's proposal. A period of public comments on the "third way" will likely be the next stop in the net neutrality debate.

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