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FCC Commissioners Copps, Clyburn Strongly Support Open Internet

David Dayen

If Genachowski sided with his colleagues, the would FCC have enough votes to pass the change in policy. Genachowski and the FCC released a plan in May to reclassify, but has yet to move on it, taking meetings with industry stakeholders and generally foot-dragging in an effort to reach consensus.

Two FCC Commissioners and one US Senator slammed the Google-Verizon
joint policy agreement and strongly endorsed the principle of net
neutrality last night at a hearing before hundreds of citizens in
Minneapolis, giving the Chairman of the federal agency Julius
Genachowski all of the support he would need to regulate broadband
Internet, if he so chose.

Democratic Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn both
endorsed the reclassification of broadband as a communications service,
under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Copps said simply, “It’s
calling an apple an apple.” If Genachowski agreed, he would thus have
enough votes to pass the change in policy. Genachowski and the FCC released a plan
in May to reclassify, but has yet to move on it, taking meetings with
industry stakeholders and generally foot-dragging in an effort to reach

In the interim, Internet giant Google and telecom giant Verizon
announced a joint policy agreement that made a distinction between
wireline and wireless Internet, and also allowed for undefined “managed
services” to discriminate between online content. Both Copps and
Clyburn sharply criticized the statement. The deal “would eliminate any
openness provisions over wireless, which is where all Internet
applications are going,” said Copps, the longtime Commissioner.
Clyburn, the daughter of House Majority Whip James Clyburn, agreed.
“Any proposal that treats wire-line and wireless Internet differently
would be impossible for me to support,” she said, citing the increasing
tendency for minority Web users to access the Internet on phones or
wireless devices.

Sen. Al Franken, who has led on the issue of net neutrality recently, concurred.
Speaking of the Google-Verizon deal, he said, “We can’t let companies
write the rules that we the people are supposed to follow. Because if
that happens those rules will be written only to protect corporations.”
As Copps put it, “Dealmaking between big Internet players is not
policymaking for the common good.”

Copps and Clyburn were also in agreement on the crucial importance of
net neutrality for all Internet products. While stressing that the
issue “is not about regulating the content on the Internet,” a clear
response to tea party activists and conservatives who have criticized
net neutrality in that fashion, Clyburn called an open Internet “the
great equalizer” and preferred a situation where “consumers and not
corporations managing their own experience on Internet.” Copps cited
the great importance of citizen action and the Web’s role as a tool in
facilitating that, but said that “truth only tells its story when it can
be heard.”

Adding some levity to the proceedings, Franken alluded to the
controversy around the Park51 Islamic cultural center project near
Ground Zero. “Net neutrality is the First Amendment fight of the 21st
century, except for religious freedom, which before last week I thought
was settled.” Franken also warned of the imminent merger between
Comcast and NBC Universal, and the dangers of having a company control
the content and the pipe through which that content can be viewed.

In an editorial yesterday, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) added his voice
to the chorus of criticism over the Google-Verizon deal, describing it
as “an effort to kill off the open Internet.” Despite Grayson’s earlier
preference for Congress to deal with the matter, he says here “It’s
time for the FCC to step up. It’s time for Congress to step up. It’s
time for all of us to step up” in support of net neutrality, suggesting
there would be plenty of back-up for reclassification if the FCC chose
that route.

While the opinions of Copps and Clyburn are nothing new – just yesterday they posted an editorial
with similar views in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune – this public
display of support for net neutrality makes perfectly clear that two
votes exist on the FCC for strong regulatory authority over broadband in
all its forms. Only three votes would be needed for passage, so
really, it’s all up to Chairman Genachowski.

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