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FCC Net Neutrality Vote Sets Up Legal Challenges

The 3-2 Federal Communications Commission decision in support of an open Internet won't be the end of the story, as Congress and the courts will likely be called in to address the matter.

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Rather than settling the multi-year debate over net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission's 3-2 party-line vote Tuesday is likely to be viewed as just another shot fired against opponents of a completely open Internet. Legions of Washington lawyers on both sides of the issue are licking their chops over the legal suits that are likely to enrich them for months -- if not years -- as net neutrality is litigated.

One observer who liked the Tuesday vote led by the three Democratic commissioners was President Obama, who had promised to protect Internet access for consumers. In a statement, the President said: "As technology and the market continue to evolve at a rapid pace, my administration will remain vigilant and see to it that innovation is allowed to flourish, that consumers are protected from abuse, and that the democratic spirit of the Internet remains intact."

A problem for Obama and the Democratic commissioners is the two other government branches. Congress is likely to attempt to pick apart Tuesday's decision, and the Washington Court of Appeals, which has already ruled in favor of at least a partial closing of the Internet, is likely to be called upon to decide ultimately how closed or open the Internet will be.

In its vote, the FCC sought to deliver a compromise that would keep the largest carriers from blocking or retarding online access, even as wireless companies would be afforded increased latitude to regulate themselves.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, who has tried for months to work out a compromise acceptable to most sides in the issue, criticized "extremists" on both polarized ends of net neutrality. He hailed the new rules approved by fellow Democrats Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn as an opportunity to make the U.S. Internet the "freest and fastest in the world." Genachowski has sounded the alarm for months that the United States is continuing to fall behind several other nations in the robustness of its Internet access.

The Republican commissioners, Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker, voted against the new rules. The Republicans have generally argued that a less-regulated Internet would spur investment and innovation.

Net neutrality also pits traditional carriers like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon against newer content providers like Amazon, eBay, and Skype which have thrived on an open access Internet.


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