At FCC chairman dinner, biggest buzz comes from the crowd
At an annual dinner honoring the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, special attention was paid to Julius Genachowski as he struggles to gain enough support to pass his controversial net neutrality proposal.
The FCC chairman made plenty of self-deprecating jokes about observations that he takes too long to make decisions and has amassed critics on all sides of the policy and political spectrum.
"Welcome to the latest in a series of secret meetings," Genachowski said to an audience of several hundred telecommunications bar association members. He was referring to unsuccessful closed-door negotiations in net neutrality between his chief of staff, Eddie Lazarus, and AT&T, Verizon, the cable trade group National Cable and Telecommunications Association and a coalition representing public interest groups and Web giants Google, Amazon and Facebook.
But true to form, Genachowski didn’t break news, and what was perhaps most interesting was commentary from observers and FCC officials about his chances at getting his proposal passed later this month.
Democratic allies Michael J. Copps and Mignon Clyburn have both said they are willing to compromise on components of the deal. But it is unclear if their calls for stronger rules on wireless broadband providers and protections against paid priority for faster Internet lanes will result in final regulation they can vote for.
Those comments come as cable and telecom carriers say they have worked for months with senior members of Genachowski’s team to come up with guidelines for new rules.
“My instinct is that this item will be adopted,” said Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, in a recent interview. “And as I have tried to make clear, while we support rough consensus we developed over negotiations over six months, I think we have to be careful of material changes.”
Those details at this point could include vague language that frowns on, but doesn’t prevent, the ability of partners to pay for priority of Internet delivery, according to two sources who have seen a draft of the proposal. It could also include rules that prevent wireless carriers from blocking competing voice and video calling applications on cell networks, but allows for tiered lanes.
“I don’t know what success would look like if there was success,” said one FCC official before the dinner.
Other telecom policy insiders at the Federal Communications Bar Association said there are questions about allowances for usage based pricing. A telecom lawyer said several clients are concerned that the FCC’s green light on billing based on data consumption could lead to higher charges for customers. If carriers such as Comcast and Verizon set low caps on usage, consumers could easily exceed those limits and be forced to pay more. That could prevent them from trying new forms of Internet video delivery.
One lobbyist noted how AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and their biggest outside law firms overwhelmingly bought the most tables at the event.
“It’s a metaphor for how the FCC is operating these days, with the armies surrounding it made up of the biggest incumbent carriers,” the lobbyist noted.
| December 10, 2010; 1:25 AM ET
Categories: FCC, Net Neutrality
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