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Copps Praises ISP Access Study

Evoking images of broadband "toll bridges" and "gate keepers", Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps Tuesday praised a study that found a majority of respondents (54%) wanted legislation mandating nondiscriminatory access to Internet service providers (ISPs).

The venue was a press conference Wednesday by Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America and Free Press announcing the study and calling for such a provision in Congress' ongoing rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Copps did not expressly back a legislative mandate--referring only to "creative solutions"--or take questions, but he said the data "made clear to me that this is becoming a really important national issue."

As is his style, Copps called for a national dialog, saying that "the more concentrated our facilities become, the more they have the ability, and possibly the incentive, to act as Internet gatekeepers."

The Internet, he said, "is the last place on earth we should tolerate gatekeeper controls," saying such controls could make it more difficult to watch videos, listen to music or get VOIP phone service.

The FCC in August agreed to classify telco's Internet access service over digital subscriber lines (DSL) as an information service, granting them the same freedom from access regulations the cable industry got in June when the Supreme Court upheld the FCC's decision (in the Brand X case) that cable was not subject to the same nondiscriminatory access requirements as telecom services like phone.

The FCC essentially freed both cable and telcos, in the latter's capacity as a DSL Internet provider, from obligations to carry unaffiliated ISPs. The FCC did add a general statement of principles favoring nondiscriminatory access, however.

Groups including the Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America have countered that a statement of principles is not sufficient and that Congress needs to step in and mandate network neutrality to prevent discriminatory practices, i.e. excluding ISPs who could provide better services or lower prices than the cable or telcos' own ISP service.