Government // Leadership
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5/6/2010
03:38 PM
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FCC Chair Pitches Restraint In Net Neutrality

Julius Genachowski's "Third Way" aims for moderate regulation of broadband to protect consumers while encouraging investment and innovation by Internet providers.

Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski revealed his "Third Way" to attempt to solve the Net neutrality issue that has been dogging Internet regulation negotiations for weeks. Genachowski's plan generally calls for regulation of Web transmission by Internet service providers, but would renounce some requirements on carriers, such as rules that they would have to share lines with competitors.

In a statement Thursday, the FCC chairman said he supported a "restrained approach" to broadband Net neutrality regulations, "one carefully balanced to unleash investment and innovation while also protecting and empowering consumers."

Genachowski's approach is likely to be criticized by major carriers like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon Communications, which want as little regulation as possible. However, firms like Google and Skype that rely on unfettered access to broadband are likely to support Genachowski.

The FCC chairman was clearly trying to pick his way through a complex minefield of regulations and arguments, but his "Third Way" is likely to be praised, challenged, and discussed from a variety of quarters. To start, however, Genachowski is certain to see his approach approved by his two Democratic colleagues on the FCC, commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn, giving him a three-to-two endorsement over the two Republican commissioners.

While much of the issue is mired in arcane regulatory jargon, the results of the latest chapter in Net neutrality are likely to influence a wide sweep of Americans and measures ranging from delivery of broadband in rural areas to encouraging new investment and competition in broadband services.

Genachowski had been examining the issue since April, when a U.S. federal appeals court ruled that the FCC couldn't sanction Comcast for blocking Bit Torrent from transmitting traffic over the Internet. Genachowski asked FCC general counsel Austin Schlick for legal guidance and Schlick suggested the "Third Way" approach.

Genachowski also appears to have received important backing from Senator John D. Rockefeller and Congressman Henry Waxman, both Democrats, before he announced his Third Way statement Thursday

Schlick reviewed proposals, including one to keep Title I authority to oversee broadband as it generally now is or to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service. As currently defined, broadband is viewed as an information service and the FCC has little oversight over it. The carriers generally support keeping the Title I classification, while Google, Skype, and public interest groups wanted broadband to come under Title II.

"I have serious reservations about both of these approaches," said Genachowski, adding that Schlick found the third way: "a legal anchor that gives the Commission only the modest authority it needs to foster a world-leading broadband infrastructure for all Americans while definitely avoiding the negative consequences of a full reclassification and broad application of Title II."

Genachowski's Third Way approach will be open for public comment, which is expected to be vigorous on both sides of the issue.

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