Despite rumors early in the week that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) planned to back away from efforts to pursue "net neutrality," Chairman Julius Genachowski announced plans to reclassify Internet services and apply some of the rules given to the FCC to enforce in regulating telephone services. This move by the FCC is expected to spark vigorous debate and strong challenges from Internet service providers (ISPs).
In April, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against the FCC and in favor of cable giant Comcast in a dispute over the commission's interpretation of its authority to implement and enforce net neutrality principles. In the wake of the ruling, some observers believe that Congress would have to pass legislation granting the FCC specific powers to regulate Internet services, while others think the FCC can assert authority under its existing telecom-regulation authority.
Rumors swirled early in the week that Chairman Genachowski had decided to back down and stop pursuing net neutrality efforts. But reportedly buoyed by support from key lawmakers like Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), and Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), Genachowski announced today that the FCC will seek a "third way" approach and apply a few key telecom regulations to Internet service providers in order to continue to support net neutrality principles.
Those cheering the FCC's move argue that it will help preserve equal Internet access for all Americans. They point to actions such as Comcast's slowing of Bit Torrent downloads as evidence of a desire of ISPs to charge more for Internet access to different groups of content providers and users. If this happens, net neutrality supporters claim that non-profit groups and small website operators might not be able to afford to get established.
Supporters also fear that not only will consumers be charged more to access certain types of content, but that content owned by ISPs (such as the content Comcast seeks to gain with its purchase of NBC) will receive priority. Additionally, given that the Internet was created and developed through taxpayer-funded entities such as the Department of Defense and uses citizen-owned resources as other public utilities do, supporters believe it should be regulated in a similar manner.
Opponents, however, fear that innovation could be stopped and service availability could slow or decrease if businesses that provide service are not allowed to pursue profitable growth and means of running their business. They also see this as an example of government overreaching and infringing upon the free market.
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