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4/13/2010
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FCC Net Neutrality Solution May Be Name Change

A court ruling prevents the FCC from stopping Internet access providers from blocking some Internet access services -- for now.

A former telecom advisor to President Obama has suggested a way for the FCC to deal with its defeat by a federal appeals court in its net neutrality litigation with Comcast -- simply call Internet access service "telecommunications services" instead of "information services."

Susan Crawford, currently a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, argued in an op-ed article in the New York Times that the reclassification would enable the FCC to hold its course on network neutrality and continue pursuing its National Broadband Plan without major changes. Crawford, who is a former special assistant to President Obama for science, technology, and innovation policy, noted that the decision by the appeals court means that the FCC can't stop Comcast and other Internet access providers from blocking some of its Internet access services.

"The FCC has the legal authority to change the label," Crawford wrote, "The commission should state its case, re-label highspeed Internet access as a 'telecommunications service' and take back the power to protect American consumers." She added that the FCC would, however, need a "good reason" to change the definition to "telecommunications services", which would classify more Internet services under tighter FCC control.

In the wake of last week's decision by the appeals court, FCC general counsel Austin Schlick said the decision could negatively impact some of the FCC's National Broadband Plan recommendations, but he added that changes to the plan could be made. He indicated the FCC must have "a sound legal basis" for making some changes.

The net neutrality issue has been batted about for several months. The appeals court case had its genesis in a dispute between Comcast and Bit Torrent, which was consuming hefty amounts of Internet resources to send video files among home computers.

While the FCC and public interest groups have argued the appeals court decision would lead to diminished Internet access for many Americans, trade associations and most Internet providers maintain the decision would help spur investment in the Web and create jobs as well.

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