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Industry Questions Need for Open-Access Cop

By: John Eggerton, Multichannel News

Various industry groups and companies were quick to weigh in Monday on FCC chairman Julius Genachowski's proposal to expand and codify agency 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 competiton."

Genachowski had suggested that one of the reasons new regulations were needed was that there was insufficient competition among Internet-service providers. The chairman outlined his proposal in a speech at the Brookings Institution here on Monday.

"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, 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," McSlarrow said.

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, and we welcome the dialogue suggested by his comments," the Philadelphia-based MSO said in a statement. "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, Comcast executive vice president David Cohen 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," said Cohen. "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 following Genachowski's speech at Brookings on Monday.

Like Comcast's Cohen, Young was pleased that the chairman said the rules would be driven by data and facts. But he also also wasn't sure he saw a problem that needed to be addressed with first-time regulations on the Internet, he said.

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

At Brookings, Genachowski 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, 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. The cellphone trade group said most recently auctioned wireless spectrum -- except the C-block auction, which was sold with open-access conditions -- was not sold subject to open access.

"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 CTIA vice president of regulatory affairs Chris Guttman-McCabe in a statement.

While all three Democratic FCC members had weighed in with their support by deadline for this story, there has yet been no word from either Republican commissioner.


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