FCC appears poised to enact light net neutrality rules

The FCC appears likely to approve new net neutrality regulations for wireless and wired networks ahead of its crucial vote Tuesday, despite concern from two Democratic commissioners that the rules for wireless carriers are not strong enough.

Analysts said they expect Democratic Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn to support FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's proposal, despite their misgivings. The commission's two Republican members, Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker, are expected to oppose the measure. The final text of the measure, and where it stands on wireless, likely won't be revealed until the meeting.

Verizon (NYSE:VZ), AT&T (NYSE:T) and the CTIA all have argued against strong wireless regulations, arguing that limited spectrum means carriers must have greater flexibility to mange their networks. Proponents of strong net neutrality regulations for wireless argue that as the Internet becomes more mobilized, rules are needed to protect consumers from paid prioritization of wireless traffic.

According to a Capital Business analysis of congressional lobbying records, over the past three years more than 150 organizations hired at least 118 outside lobbying firms to influence the net neutrality vote. 

Under Genachowski's proposal, unveiled earlier this month, wireless carriers would be prohibited from blocking services such as Google Voice and Skype that compete with their own voice and video offerings. However, wireless carriers would not face the same restrictions wired operators face on blocking Web traffic and other applications--a ban on unreasonable discrimination in transmitting lawful network traffic. The plan for wireless networks includes transparency requirements on network management policies and a basic "no-blocking" rule. Genachowski said the FCC would closely monitor the development of mobile broadband and "be prepared to step in to further address anti-competitive or anti-consumer conduct as appropriate."

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, senior vice president and policy director of the public interest group Media Access Project, said the fight likely won't end Tuesday. "I would expect challenges from all directions--people who think it's gone too far and people who think it hasn't gone far enough," he said. 

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this Washington Post article
- see this Capital Business post

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