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FCC's Net Neutrality Proceeding Means More Work For State Department

The FCC's actions on network neutrality, particularly if it
classifies broadband as a Title II service subject to mandatory access
provisions, could create work for the State Department, according to Ambassador
Philip Verveer, assistant secretary of state and U.S. coordinator for international
communications & information policy.

Following a luncheon speech at The Media Institute, Verveer,
a former top FCC official, was asked whether that reclassification would cause
the government to have to "adjust or amend" its international policy
recommendation that competition, rather than regulation, was the preferred
method of dealing with communications issues.

While saying the decision about what to do about network
neutrality was in the hands of his colleagues at the FCC, he said the point was
an important one.

"I can tell you from my travels around the world and my
discussions with figures in various governments around the world there is a
very significant preoccupation with respect to what we are proposing with
respect to broadband and especially with respect to the net neutrality."

The FCC recognized that possibility when it launched the net
neutrality proceeding back in October 2009.  In announcing the proposed rulemaking
codifying and expanding net neutrality principles, FCC Chairman Julius
Genachowski said that "there should be no confusion on this point, at home
or abroad. This commission fully agrees that government must not restrict the
free flow of information over the Internet.

But Verveer said that the proceeding "is one that could
be employed by regimes that don't agree with our perspectives about essentially
avoiding regulation of the Internet and trying to be sure not to do anything to
damage its dynamism and its organic development. It could be employed as a
pretext or as an excuse for undertaking public policy activities that we would
disagree with pretty profoundly."

He says he has tried to assuage his counterparts' concerns
over the proceeding. "But [the concern] is there, and depending upon what
happens with respect to the net neutrality proceeding, it may well end up
having an effect that will cause us at the state department to have to engage
in a lot of discussions with our foreign counterparts."

The thrust of Verveer's brief speech, whose brevity he said
was in inverse proportion to the importance of the subject, was the impact of
cloud computing on privacy and intermediary liability.

He called on his audience, representing trade associations
and media companies, to engage in the dialog. The old rules and protections, he
suggested, were written in a point-to-point world where it was easier to
determine when information crossed boundaries. Now, he said, the explosive
growth in Internet use and cloud computing and storage requires new thinking
and likely new guidelines. But he also put in a pitch for
retaining and pitching to the world the current protections
for ISP's and others from liability for the third party content that they
host or post on the net, saying that has spurred innovation and creativity.