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Powell to Cable: Guard Internet Freedom

In a blunt message to cable, Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell said in a recent speech that owners of high-speed Internet networks would invite regulation if they frustrated consumers' ability to make full use of the Web.

Powell, who has made broadband deployment a top goal, used a Feb. 8 speech in Boulder, Colo., to urge cable operators to adopt his “Four Freedoms” paradigm if they are serious about preserving consumers' uninhibited enjoyment of the Internet.

“It is time to give the private sector a clear road map by which it can avoid future regulation on this issue by embracing unparalleled openness and consumer choice,” Powell told the Silicon Flatirons Symposium.

Cable operators serve about 15 million high-speed data subscribers, or more than 60% of the residential market, the fruits of massive capital spending triggered by deregulation in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

A business coalition that includes Microsoft Corp., Inc., and Yahoo! Inc. is urging the FCC to adopt rules so cable can't use its alleged market power to injure Web merchants that rely on direct ties to consumers. Cable has called regulation unnecessary and counterproductive.

“We appreciate Chairman Powell's recognition of the lead role that cable has played in bringing broadband to millions of Americans and are pleased that cable company practices track well with the Internet freedoms he outlined,” said National Cable & Telecommunications Association spokesman Brian Dietz.

Powell said he wasn't prepared now to support regulation, saying evidence for it was “unconvincing and speculative.”

The wiser course, he said, was for broadband providers to guarantee that consumers enjoy:

  • Freedom to access legal content;
  • Freedom to run any application that won't harm the network;
  • Freedom to attach any device that does not abet crime;
  • Freedom to obtain meaningful information about service plans.

Consumers, Powell added, should challenge broadband providers to live up to his standards and notify the FCC if the industry fails to do so.

The Coalition of Broadband Users and Innovators (CBUI), which recently denied that Microsoft had withdrawn from the group, was pleased Powell recognized the importance of its issues. “We hope that the industry steps up to the plate and accepts the challenge and provides an enforceable commitment to ensure that American consumers continue to enjoy these basic Internet freedoms in the broadband world,” CBUI said in a statement.