CES: Net neutrality ahead: Hill hearings, court challenges
Expect much more debate over net neutrality this year, according to congressional staffers and executives of AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Google who spoke Thursday on a policy panel at CES.
Rules issued by the Federal Communications Commission last month would generally prohibit Internet service providers from impeding or favoring Web traffic carried over their networks. Providers must also disclose their network management practices to consumers.
Companies are expected to fight the rules, but some may also push for federal officials to take a harder look at other Internet companies such as Apple and Google and weigh whether they warrant more scrutiny.
"In terms of where this goes, we will continue to work as we had to encourage Congress to step up to plate and address issues that confront the Internet ecosystem," said Tom Tauke, executive vice president of Verizon.
Verizon is among the companies that don't support the rules, and Tauke didn't rule out the possibility of legally challenging the FCC rules.
"We are studying the order carefully to determine what course of action we might take when the time comes," Tauke said. "I’m not in a position at this junction to say what we may or may not do."
The FCC rules don't apply as strongly to wireless networks, which has sparked criticism from consumer groups who note fast and important strides in mobile technology.
Google, which has been one of the strongest proponents of wireless net neutrality rules, said it supports the FCC rules as well as a "watch and see" approach to wireless networks.
"This order can be seen as part of an iterative process," said Rick Whitt, media counsel for Google. "Nothing happens in Washington by large steps."
Neil Fried, a staff member of the Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee, said overturning the FCC rules will be a priority for the new House lawmakers. He said the FCC chairman and staff will be called into hearings soon on the rules, which Republicans have called job-killing.
"I think you can count on early in the year, one of the first tech issues is going to be net neutrality with a series of hearings on substance, to authority, to process," Fried said.
AT&T executive vice president Jim Cicconi said the company is cautiously supportive of the rules, saying light regulation of wireless networks is key for his firm to invest in its high-speed mobile network.
"We're here in the back of the convention center, but the real innovation is taking place out there," Cicconi said. "Why we are back here shouldn't matter to those people out there on the floor unless we mess it up with bad policy decisions."
| January 6, 2011; 10:03 PM ET
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