It's Our Net coalition, led by big computer companies including Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, Intel, and a veritable host of others, say they are concerned about the FCC's planned vote on the AT&T/BellSouth merger at its Oct. 12 meeting, combined with its plan also to open a notice of inquiry (NOI) into the issue of network neutrality.
The group is all for the FCC taking up the network-neutrality issue so long as the effort is a serious one. In fact, the group's charter is to push for strong network-neutrality language on the Hill or at the FCC. Their concern is that opening a notice of inquiry on the issue will allow the commission to appear to be addressing the issue without actually taking any concreted action.
Just what network neutrality means is the multi-million lobbying-dollar question, but the issue is whether and how much control networks can have over the content or content providers on their networks.
In a conference call about the FCC's Oct. 12 meeting, coalition member Gigi Sohn, President of Public Knowledge, said she was concerned that "coupling" the merger vote with the NOI was a "bait and switch," that will allow the FCC to attach few or no conditions on the merger while saying they are "taking care of net neut through the notice of inquiry."
The coalition wants a permanent network neutrality condition on the merger, and the FCC to conclude its NOI with regs on network neutrality, rather than have the NOI become a "graveyard for issues the commission doesn't want to deal with."
The AT&T/BellSouth merger could be pulled off the agenda if FCC Chairman Kevin Martin doesn't have the votes lined up. At press time, a staffer for Commissioner Robert McDowell was still operating as though he will be recused from voting on the merger, which would leave the commission at two Republicans, two Democrats for the vote. His previous employers, telecom association Comptel, have weighed in on the merger, which will preclude him from voting unless the FCC general counsel gives him the OK.
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