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FCC Republicans McDowell, Baker agree to explore net neutrality rules

In the open meeting, Republican Commissioners Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker said they disagree with some of the legal and factual arguments behind a proposal by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on net neutrality. But they said they will vote in favor of a notice of proposed rule-making on the table Thursday morning to begin an at least three-month process to develop new rules.

"Today we do disagree on substance. I do not agree with the majority’s view that the Internet is showing breaks and cracks and that the government ... needs to fix it," McDowell said. "Nonetheless it is important to remember that the commission is starting a process, not ending one."

Specifically, he disagreed that new rules are necessary and that such regulation could have "unintended consequences" that could hurt investment and the economy.

He also said that in considering such rules, the FCC needs to weigh whether such rules should apply to a broader array of companies that feed into the Web, not just access providers, such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Sprint Nextel.

The proposal, expected to pass, will launch a 120-day process on public comment and replies on details. The most contentious details will be on precise definitions for how carriers can "reasonably" manage traffic on their networks. There will also be much debate on what managed services, such as telemedicine and some video applications, should fall under final rules.

Baker said three weeks ago she wasn't going to vote in favor of the proposal, but she will do so because she believes the process presented by Genachowski would allow for a fact-driven approach to exploring if new rules are necessary.

"As a member of the minority I appreciate that we demonstrated that we can disagree without being disagreeable where the policy perspective just cannot live up," Baker said.

By Cecilia Kang  |  October 22, 2009; 11:15 AM ET
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