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FCC Meets With Broadband Providers Over Regulation

Public interest groups object to being excluded from talks about giving government authority over high-speed Internet lines.
Phone and cable company representatives have been meeting with the Federal Communications Commission to discuss giving the government authority over high-speed Internet lines. The FCC is seeking comment from broadband providers, including AT&T and Verizon Communications, and Internet companies, such as Google and Skype, to see if they can find common ground over the FCC's power to regulate broadband Internet companies.

Talks were held on Monday with Edward Lazarus, chief of staff for FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. A similar meeting was held Friday, a day after the FCC voted to gather public comments on whether the agency should reclassify broadband regulation under existing stricter, older phone network regulations. Phone and cable companies have urged Congress to update the Communications Act so that the FCC doesn't resort to using the decades-old rules for broadband lines.

A U.S. appeals court ruled in April that the FCC had failed to show it had the authority to stop Comcast from blocking online applications that distributed television shows and other bandwidth-intensive files.

Genachowski last week announced that it was soliciting comments on how it may impose rules, which Republicans, AT&T, and Comcast all oppose. The FCC is looking to gain control so it can set net neutrality rules, which would prevent Internet companies from interfering with subscribers' Web traffic and discriminating against rivals.

Genachowski and two fellow Democrats want the FCC to regulate broadband access to enable the free flow of information and apply recommendations in its National Broadband Plan, which seeks to increase speeds and availability of broadband in the United States.

Closed-door discussions have reportedly focused on how Genachowski can establish authority over net neutrality -- also known as open Internet principles -- in exchange for abandoning efforts to move broadband under phone rules.

The meetings have not produced any significant progress, according to reports. In the meantime Congress is considering changes to the U.S. telecommunications law to possibly give the FCC broadband authority and better reflect advances in technology. Any legislation, however, could take years to come to fruition.

Public interest groups including Free Press and the Media Access Project were not invited to the meetings with the FCC and Genachowski, and representatives were vocal about being excluded. Free Press president Josh Silver expressed dismay over what he called backroom deals being brokered by the FCC and industry lobbyists without the presence of any public interest representatives.