After midterms, net neutrality take a hit
If the forecast of strong Republican gains in Congress holds true Nov. 2, the battle over net neutrality -- the most contentious tech policy issue -- isn't likely to be resolved anytime soon.
Net neutrality -- the idea that all traffic on the Internet should travel at the same speed -- has been a point of contention for the Federal Communications Commission, which is proposing regulations that would ensure that broadband service providers treat all Web traffic equally. But analysts say the FCC could also find itself in a more hostile political environment as its embattled chairman pushes for rules that Republicans are expected to argue would hurt the telecom and cable companies responsible for a large chunk of American jobs.
Aside from net neutrality, federal regulators and lawmakers are also expected to focus on Internet privacy rules, tax reform and reviews of Comcast's proposed mega-merger with NBC Universal after the midterm elections.
But the move to regulate the broadband industry is what has businesses and public interest groups on the watch. The public interest groups fear that a Republican-dominated Congress could stall or weaken any new rules on net neutrality. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, they said, could buckle under pressure from lawmakers who would deem the measures anti-business.
"First and foremost, the new Congress has to sort out what to do about net neutrality because it's left too much uncertainty in the market," said Jeffrey Silva, an analyst at Medley Global Advisors.
The FCC wants to prevent Internet service providers from blocking Web applications or slowing the transmission of Web sites. It is unclear if those rules would apply to wireless networks and companies such as Verizon and Google, which want network carriers to be able to charge companies willing to pay for faster channels on their networks.
Congress could take up the issue, and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) made an attempt last month when he gathered support from key businesses and public interest groups for a final draft of a net neutrality bill. But the bill has not been introduced in Congress, and in a lame-duck session, securing legislation could be more difficult.
Genachowski hasn't indicated a timeline for his policy proposal. At the start of his tenure more than a year ago, he said he would apply new rules to all platforms, including wireless networks. Critics say he has had ample time to push his proposal through the FCC, as three out of five commissioners favor the rules.
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| October 28, 2010; 6:18 PM ET
Categories: FCC, FTC, Google, Microsoft, Net Neutrality, Privacy
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