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9/22/2009
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FCC Head Net Neutrality Remarks Spark Reaction

The Federal Communications Commission Chair's suggestion that consumer protections applying to wired networks be extended to wireless networks elicits swift pushback.

It didn't take long for Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski's Internet neutrality roadmap to elicit pushback. Republican FCC commissioners and major mobile phone wireless carriers weighed in Tuesday with skepticism in the wake of Genachowski's speech Monday in support of the concept of 'net neutrality'.

As expected, the major fuss centers around wireless networks and Genachowski's suggestion that the FCC principles and consumer protections applying to wired networks be extended to wireless networks.

Calling Genachowski's still-unspecified proposal "monumental," Republican commissioners Meredith Baker and Robert McDowell, said in a joint statement that they are concerned that factual and legal conclusions "may have been drawn before the process has begun." In addition, they said that Genachowski's Monday speech outlining a framework for the net neutrality issue "does nothing to address the effect new rules may have on encouraging additional foreign government control of the Internet."

Genachowski, a Democrat, was immediately supported by the other Democratic Party commissioners, Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn, giving them a 3-2 majority over the Republican commissioners.

While the first round of suggestions and proposals for net neutrality are scheduled to be presented at October's open FCC meeting, a long period of debate, lobbying, and general wrangling isn't likely to be concluded with final rules being promulgated until the spring or later. Genachowski's comments appear to provide for a long and open-ended process designed to permit the discussion of a wide array of proposals to govern networks.

Major attention is likely to be focused on wireless networks, because they haven't generally been governed by established rules governing wired networks and also because wireless networks are becoming more robust and serving more consumers in more ways.

Among wireless carriers, AT&T issued the most direct challenge to the Genachowski outline, noting that the country's wireless landscape is already extremely competitive. "We would thus be very disappointed if (the FCC) 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," AT&T said in a statement.

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