FCC chief to offer middle way for Web

Genachowski plans compromise on 'Net neutrality'

Federal Communications chief Julius Genachowski is preparing to unveil a regulatory plan for the broadband biz that will address the uncertainty raised by a federal appeals court ruling last month.

Genachowski is set to announce a plan today that aims to reconcile the questions about the FCC’s authority to impose rules and regulations on broadband providers, which was raised in a decision issued April 6 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The court ruled that the FCC lacked authority to intervene in the case involving complaints from Comcast subscribers about the cable giant intentionally slowing broadband traffic for certain types of websites.

Genachowski’s plan is said to forge a “third way” compromise approach to the two routes that the FCC could take to resolve the issue.

The court’s ruling said the FCC didn’t have authority in the matter because broadband service had been defined by the commission as a Title I “information service” in which the FCC has very light regulatory authority. The FCC had the option of trying to reclassify broadband as a Title II “telecommunications service,” which would give the commission greater authority to govern certain activities in the sector.

The appeals court ruling was a blow to Genachowski’s ambitious agenda to establish ‘Net neutrality rules that would ensure that broadband providers give equal treatment in terms of traffic speed to all websites and online entities, as well as for the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, which aims to increase the availability and connection speeds for service throughout the country.

Genachowski’s plan is de scribed by a senior FCC official as ” ‘third way’ approach between a weak Title I and a needlessly burdensome Title II approach.” The plan would apply only a few Title II regulatory provisions to broadband providers and it will have specific curbs built in to “guard against regulatory overreach.”

Genachowski has often cited his past experience in the private sector with tech startups and as an exec at Barry Diller’s InterActiveCorp in emphasizing his understanding that regulators need to tread lightly lest they stifle innovation and business development.

Still, any effort to extend FCC authority is sure to draw opposition from broadband providers, which include Comcast and other major cable operators, as well as key Republicans in Congress.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who has been vocal on ‘N et neutrality and telecom policy issues, praised Genachowski’s move. The FCC “was presented a false choice between no regulation of broadband services or excessive regulation,” Kerry said. Genachowski “has chosen to a measured middle path and I support it.”

Separately, the FCC on Wednesday reset the clock for public comments and responses on the pending merger of Comcast and NBC Universal. Now that Comcast has filed additional studies on the impact of the merger requested by the commission, the public comment period on those and other documents related to the merger extends through June 21 for comments and petitions to deny the merger. Responses to those filings are due by July 21 and replies to those responses are due by Aug. 5.

Comcast and General Electric execs have said they’re confident the merger will be completed by year’s end.

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