Thursday, September 2, 2010

Public Interest Groups Growing Impatient With FCC

By Juliana Gruenwald

Saying the issue has been studied long enough, public interest groups Wednesday called on the FCC to proceed with action on network neutrality rules that would bar broadband providers from discriminating against or prioritizing Internet content.

The groups made the call in response to the public notice issued Wednesday by the commission related to its open Internet proceeding. It has called for additional public comment on whether open Internet rules should be applied to wireless broadband and "specialized" services. It comes less than a month after Google and Verizon released a proposal that called for exempting such services from net neutrality rules, while applying them to wireline broadband.

"The FCC continues to kick the can down the road and prolong this process, but the longer the FCC ponders the politics of net neutrality, the longer consumers are left unprotected," Free Press Research Director S. Derek Turner said. "It is time for the FCC to stop writing notices and start making clear rules of the road."

Public Knowledge
President Gigi Sohn said the public notice should not stop the commission from moving forward on FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's "third way" proposal aimed at solidifying the FCC's authority over broadband providers by reclassifying some aspects of broadband as a telecommunications service. That proposal would allow the FCC to proceed on its open Internet rules.

The commission's authority over broadband providers was put in doubt in April after a federal appeals court ruled the FCC went too far when it tried to enforce network neutrality principles against Comcast.

"Nothing in this public notice prevents the FCC from taking prompt action on its 'Third Way' proceeding, which would make certain all Americans have affordable access to broadband, and to make sure it can deal with public safety and other crucial issues that are broader than the narrow issues on which the Commission seeks comment," Sohn said in a statement.

Media Access Project
Associate Director Matt Wood added that the FCC has sought and received information on the same questions it asked in the latest public notice. "The record demonstrates already that the same framework and openness principles should apply to all broadband access services, even if the rules differ on the basis of legitimate technological differences," he said. "The record also shows that the commission must retain authority over specialized services."

Corporate players were more supportive of the FCC's lastest move on the issue.

"We are happy the chairman and the commissioners realize that wireless is different," CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent said in a statement. "We will continue to work with them to explain why these rules are unnecessary and should not be applied to the wireless ecosystem."

AT&T Senior Executive Vice President Jim Cicconi said his company has "worked hard to find common ground on these difficult issues and feel good progress has been made. In particular, we feel a path can be found that addresses concerns about Internet openness, while at the same time preserving jobs and protecting needed investment."

The FCC Monday released some details - though not much - of a private meeting held on Friday to discuss economic issues related to Comcast's merger with NBC Universal.
Among the few details included in the disclosure document filed with FCC Secretary Marlene H. Dortch was who attended the meeting. The meeting was divided up into two panels with the first focused on multichannel video programming distributors.

The first panel included economists representing Comcast and NBCU: Michael L. Katz, director of the University of California at Berkeley's Center for Telecommunications and Digital Convergence, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research Deputy Director Gregory L. Rosston and Mark Israel, senior vice president of the economics consulting firm Compass Lexecon.

Critics of the deal also attended including Northwestern University economics professor William P. Rogerson, who representated the American Cable Association, and Bloomberg representative Leslie M. Marx, a Duke University economics professor.

The second panel focused on online issues and included other critics of the deal, according to the disclosure filed by William D. Freedman, associate chief of the FCC's Media Bureau.

Among those on the second panel were Consumer Federation of America Research Director Mark Cooper, Navigant Economics Managing Director Hal Singer, who represented the Communications Workers of America, and University of Southern California economic professor Simon Wilkie, who attended on behalf of Internet service provider Earthlink and the satellite programming provider DISH Network.

Critics assert that the merger will hurt competition and media diversity. Comcast argues that those concerns are misplaced and that the transaction will strengthen marketplace competition and benefit consumers.

The merger is being weighed by both the FCC and the Justice Department.

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