Public Interest Groups Take Aim At FCC Stakeholder Meetings

It wasn't hard to figure out how network neutrality fan Free Press felt about the news that the FCC has been holding meetings with members of the cable, telco and computer industries about targeted legislation that would clarify the FCC's authority over broadband, including "most" of the national broadband plan.

"Backroom Industry Deals Shouldn't Determine Future of the Internet," read the bold heading on a Free Press release issued after news of the meetings was reported Monday.

"It is stunning that the FCC would convene meetings between industry giants to allow them to determine how the agency should best protect the public interest," said Free Press CEO Josh Silver. "The Obama administration promised a new era of transparency, and to ‘take a backseat to no one' on Net Neutrality, but these meetings seem to indicate that this FCC has no problem brokering backroom deals without any public input or scrutiny."

According to one industry source familiar with the meetings, a group of private industry reps including from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, AT&T, Google, Verizon, Skype and others, met with FCC chief of staff Edward Lazarus once last week and again on Monday, with another meeting scheduled for tomorrow.

Andrew Schwartzman of Media Access Project said he hasn't been invited to any meetings. "The FCC's job is to administer the Communications Act," he told B&C/multi, "not amend it. It should leave legislating to legislators. This process is especially unseemly given that this was supposed to be the most transparent FCC in history."

An industry source who said they were familiar with the meetings said the mission was "to explore a potential targeted legislative fix that would allow FCC to move forward on most of National Broadband Plan plus clarify its authority regarding broadband."

NCTA and other industry groups have advised that Congress, rather than the FCC, should step in and do the clarifying.

FCC Chairmn Julius Genachowski proposed applying a half-dozen or so common carrier regs to broadband transmissions--but not content--and publicly declaring that it would not apply the rest of them. Free Press supported that move, but major ISPS and many in Congress were troubled and raised yellow or red flags in the past few weeks.

A senior official said the FCC "plans to have a whole series of stakeholder meetings," which will almost certainly include the public interest side for the debate. The chairman last week said he hoped all the stakeholders could get together on a consensus solution that achieved the goals of insuring an open and flourishing Internet and establishing the authority to immplement the national broadband plan.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.