Net Neutrality's Weird Week

On Thursday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski blinked. He balked. He
backed away from phone and cable companies and moved toward broadband
policies that will preserve the open Internet and promote universal

For a moment, the chairman had a lot of people worried. A Washington Post story
from earlier in the week indicated that Genachowski was going to cave
to pressure from AT&T and Comcast lobbyists and abandon his pledge
to protect Net Neutrality.

Several sources within the agency painted a picture of a chairman
with no appetite to do battle with entrenched special interests. And
these companies would have kept their stranglehold on policymaking at
the FCC were it not for the massive public response in the wake of the Post's story.

of Net Neutrality supporters called the White House to complain about
Genachowski's reported inaction; others kept phones ringing off the
hook in the chairman's office for days; and nearly 250,000 signed their names to a letter
demanding that the FCC reclaim its authority under the law and keep
corporate gatekeepers from dictating what information we can access

The outcry came from all corners and it pierced through the usual clamor of lobbyists. On Thursday Genachowski proposed
that the FCC weigh a "Title II" option that would give teeth to Net
Neutrality protections, and allow the agency to regain stronger legal
footing in its efforts to connect people to a fast, affordable and open
Internet, as envisioned in the national broadband plan.

The chairman described his proposal as a "third way" - balancing the
interests of consumers against the needs of industry. Such political
kabuki didn't staunch the tide of complaints from Comcast, AT&T and
their functionaries on Capitol Hill.

The incumbents "will be ferocious in their opposition to proposals that impose even minimal government oversight," writes Free Press Policy Counsel Aparna Sridhar. "Ensuring that this regulatory shift sets the groundwork for good policymaking will require courage in the coming weeks."

While this stormy week has come to an end, the regulatory debate
will continue to raise dust inside the Beltway. The discussion can get
arcane and and technical. From the perspective of most Americans
though, it's simply about getting fast, cheap and free-flowing Internet
access in a marketplace where we have real choices among carriers.

These companies dominated communications policy throughout the first
decade of this century. They pushed a Bush FCC to re-regulate the
Internet access in their favor -- saying it would prompt greater
competition and better services. But they followed the Bush-era rule
changes with a wave of mergers that reduced market choices, pushed
prices skyward and delivered slower speeds than what's now available in
other developed countries. Now they're talking up plans to be
gatekeepers to the information that flows across these pipes.

And that's why we need to stay on alert. The next steps are crucial.
As this issue comes to a head at the FCC over the next few months,
we'll need to keep up public pressure on the FCC, lobby members of
Congress and continue to debunk the industry lies
about Net Neutrality. And we'll need to step up again if Chairman
Genachowski starts to waffle on protecting the open Internet.

In an age when corporations can spend limitless sums to influence
policy, strong arm bureaucrats and sway election outcomes, the public
must stand together in defense of the only open communications platform
we have left.

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