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Net Neutrality Vote Draws Swift Response

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler talked tough about not allowing fast and slow lanes on the net Thursday. That appeared to mitigate a bit of the pushback from open Internet advocates, but not all.

The rules that passed 3-2 (Rosenworcel concurring) would be based on Sec. 706 authority, which pleases ISPs, but Wheeler said Title II was still very much on the table, which does not make them happy, and gives at least some comfort to some critics of 706.

Response to the FCC vote was swift and varied, with cable operators promoting a balanced approach that did not stray into common carriage.

Comcast was OK with the 706 direction, but Title II is a no-go.

"We remain confident that the Commission will continue to appropriately balance its strong commitment to consumer protection with the need to allow network operators to manage their networks reasonably and to continue to encourage private investment in our nation’s broadband infrastructure," blogged David Cohen.

But, he added: "As strongly as we believe in the propriety of legally enforceable open Internet rules, however, we have an equally strong belief that any proposal to reclassify broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service subject to Title II of the Communications Act would spark massive instability, create investor and marketplace uncertainty, derail planned investments, slow broadband adoption, and kill jobs in America."

National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell echoed that.

“The cable industry remains fully committed to giving American consumers the open Internet experience they expect and deserve. Maintaining an open Internet is not only the right thing to do, it’s vital to our ability to attract and keep our customers. Nevertheless, we stand ready to work constructively with the FCC and other stakeholders – as we did in 2010 – to develop a balanced approach that protects the open Internet while fostering continued investment and innovation in America’s broadband networks," said Powell in a statement.

“But as we do so, we will continue to reiterate our unwavering opposition to any proposals that attempt to reclassify broadband services under the heavy-handed regulatory yoke of Title II. Treating broadband as a utility-like Title II service would reverse years of settled precedent, dry up investment in broadband deployment and network upgrades, and result in protracted litigation and marketplace uncertainty.

Ditto Verizon: The company said it would review the new rule proposal, but warned against switching gears to Title II. "[O]ne thing is clear. For the FCC to impose 1930s utility regulation on the Internet would lead to years of legal and regulatory uncertainty and would jeopardize investment and innovation in broadband," the company said.

Former FCC chairman Michael Copps and now an advisor to Common Cause, a big fan of Title II, was apparently not assuaged by Wheeler's promises that he would allow no fast and slow lanes. “This is an alarming day for anyone who treasures a free and open Internet – which should be all of us. The FCC could have moved decisively to guarantee that the Internet remains an open platform for free expression and the exchange of democracy-sustaining communications. Instead, the Commission again left broadband users without the protections they deserve.

Public Knowledge was also relatively unmoved, though it recognized the FCC for asking some key questions and chalked that up to the protests over his initial draft.

"After extensive public outcry, the FCC is asking questions about the fundamental legitimacy of fast lanes and exploring the viability of Title II," said Public Knowledge VP Michael Weinberg. "This shift simply would not have occurred without the outpouring of concern from organizations, companies, Members of Congress, and individuals who rely on a truly open internet every day.

"We are convinced that the net neutrality pathway the FCC is exploring remains insufficient to guarantee a truly open and neutral internet. The FCC’s proposal still falls well short of real net neutrality rules. It would create a two-tier Internet where 'commercially reasonable' discrimination is allowed on any connections that exceed an unknown 'minimum level of access' defined by the FCC."