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Industry Groups Question Need For FCC to Expand Internet Openness Principles

Various industry groups and companies were quick to weigh in Monday on FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's proposal to expand and codify FCC Internet openness principles.

National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow applauded the chairman's vision of "preserving an open Internet," but said the cable trade group "may have a different view about the state of competition and choices and benefits that flow to consumers from that competition." The chairman had suggested that one of the reasons new regulations were needed was that there was insufficient competition among ISPs.

"We will continue to present facts and data to the Commission that suggest that any regulation in this arena should be approached with great caution and only in the most targeted way," said McSlarrow. "And to advocate policies that avoid government entanglement in operational decisions that could undermine the very dynamism of the Internet we all seek to preserve."

Comcast, which was the subject of the FCC's Aug. 20, 2008, finding that the company's broadband-network-management practices violated the FCC's internet access principles, was thinking positive, but with caveats as well.

"Comcast applauds Chairman Genachowski's goal of ensuring that the Internet remains open as it is today," said the company in a statement, "and we welcome the dialogue suggested by his comments. The chairman has made it clear that commission decisions must be based on hard facts and data, and we are committed to work with the chairman and the other commissioners in this proceeding. We also appreciate that the chairman recognized that networks need to be managed and that consumer disclosure of those techniques is important."

In his blog on the chairman's announcement, David Cohen, Comcast executive VP, added some notes of caution. "Before we rush into a new regulatory environment for the Internet, let's remember there can be no doubt that the Internet has enjoyed immense growth even as these debates have gone on.... It will be incredibly important for the agency to review the data to determine whether there are actual and substantial problems that may require rules."

Those sentiments were echoed by Verizon director of Internet and Technology Policy David Young in a roundtable discussion at the Brookings Institute following the chairman's speech. Like Comcast, he was pleased that the chairman said it would be driven by data and facts, but said he also wasn't sure he saw a problem that needed to be addressed with first-time regulations on the Internet.

Randolph May of the free market think tank, The Free State Foundation, called it "regulatory hubris and immodesty."

The chairman outlined his proposal in a speech at Brookings Monday. He said coming up with new principles to prevent discrimination in services or applications, and to require transparency in reasonable network management would be an open and transparent and fact-based process with no foregone conclusions and plenty of public input.

"Despite good intentions, the likelihood of error costs from overregulation - in an environment in which Genachowski says we cannot know what tomorrow holds for the Internet - are likely to be exceedingly high," said May. "The presumption that the FCC will know the point at which it has gotten regulation just right demonstrates an immodest approach that likely will dampen the successes that Genachowski acknowledges have taken place without the type of regulation he proposes."

Adding its own concerns was CTIA-The Wireless Association, which said that, with the exception of the C-block auction of spectrum, which was sold with open access conditions, the rest of most recently auctioned spectrum did not come with those conditions. "Now the commission is considering changing the rules after the auction -- impacting companies' confidence in the auction process -- just as carriers are facing a brewing spectrum crisis," said Chris Guttman-McCabe, VP of regulatory affairs, in a statement.

“We were encouraged to hear the Chairman’s support of case-by-case enforcement and, more generally, by his assurances that we will have an open, inclusive and data-driven proceeding and that the details haven’t been pre-determined," said US Telecom Association President Walter McCormick, speaking for a range of broadband providers. "We do, however, remain concerned about the law of unintended consequences and a rulemaking that potentially goes too far.