FCC chief has votes to pass his proposal for open Internet rules

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski appears to have the votes for establishing rules of the road for the Internet, which the commission is prepared to take up in an open meeting today.

Two commissioners, Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps, indicated Monday that they would not block his net neutrality proposal, meaning that he has the three votes to move forward.

The plan Genachowski outlined in a speech earlier this month would prohibit Internet service providers from blocking lawful content, apps and services. It would leave some flexibility for the development of the wireless broadband market and would leave room for the development of so-called specialized services, transmitting content like HD movies outside the traditional boundaries of the Internet. It also would allow ISPs to experiment with different pricing models for consumers based on usage — an increasingly important issue as firms like Netflix try to grow their streaming movie businesses.

Two other commissioners, Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker, have said that they would vote against the proposal, characterizing it as an example of regulatory overreach. That’s a sentiment shared by some key Republicans on Capitol Hill, including incoming House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

But Genachowski’s plan has drawn some qualified support from telco and cable companies. There has been sentiment among the telco lobby that the long debate over Net neutrality should come to some kind of a resolution and bring more certainty to the sector as they develop new services.

On the other side of the political spectrum, some Democrats on Capitol Hill are unhappy with the proposal, saying that it leaves too many loopholes. Advocates of a robust set of Net neutrality rules say they’re needed to ensure that the Internet doesn’t develop into something akin to cable TV, with its tiering system. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has even suggested that it could do more harm than good.

Likewise, Copps said in a statement that “the item we will vote on tomorrow is not the one I would have crafted.” But he said that they “have been able to make the current iteration better than what was originally circulated. If vigilantly and vigorously implemented by the commission — and if upheld by the courts — it could represent an important milestone in the ongoing struggle to safeguard the awesome opportunity-creating power of the open Internet.”

Clyburn said: “The commission has worked tirelessly to offer a set of guidelines that, while not as strong as they could be, will nonetheless protect consumers as they explore, learn and innovate online.”

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