FCC Adds Internet Regulation to Agenda

As expected and despite protestations from Congressional Republicans, the Federal Communications Commission has officially added Internet traffic regulation to its agenda.

The monthly agenda, released at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday (Dec. 1), calls for the commission to consider “an order adopting basic rules of the road to preserve the open Internet as a platform for innovation, investment, competition and free expression.”

The FCC has been trying to tackle what has become known as “net neutrality,” since earlier this year when a federal court ruled that the FCC lacked the authority to regulate the Internet.

Details about how the FCC will legally couch its authority to make sure that Internet providers don’t block or slow down traffic that consumers legally want to access are unclear. FCC chairman Julius Genachowski is expected to provide more information in a speech today.

According to the New York Times, which got an advance copy of the text, the proposal will allow broadband Internet service providers to charge consumers different rates for different content and services.

The time leading up to the meeting is bound to be contentious. In advance of the FCC’s release of its agenda, Congressional Republicans warned the FCC that it was out of bounds.

“This is a hysterical reaction by the FCC to a hypothetical problem….chairman Genachowski has little if any congressional support for ‘net neutrality.’ He can expect this folly to be overturned in the new year, and to ensure that I will introduce my bill to pull the FCC from the policy making process on the first day of the 112th Congress,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Another 20 Republicans have also told the FCC it was abusing its authority.

Genachowski is not without support from a number of lawmakers in both Houses, including Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

In the fall, Waxman crafted a net neutrality bill that may be serving as a model for the FCC’s order, according to sources. The bill, which never made it further than a working draft, would set guidelines for online broadband, but take a lighter approach with wireless.

To prepare for the agenda item, the FCC held numerous meetings with stakeholders such as AT&T, the NCTA and public interest groups, causing the FCC to move the monthly meeting from Dec. 15 to Dec. 21.