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IDG News Service - A vote this week by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission on network neutrality rules for broadband providers will be an important step in a seven-plus-year debate over network discrimination and management, but it won't be the end of the issues.
The FCC is scheduled to vote on net neutrality, or open Internet, rules during its Tuesday meeting, but if the proposal by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski passes, Republicans in Congress have promised that they will try to repeal the decision. With a divided Congress, attempts to repeal net neutrality rules may not succeed, but there's also a chance of a lawsuit on an FCC decision this big.
Where would a lawsuit come from? Large broadband providers AT&T and Verizon Communications have been largely silent about Genachowski's proposal, saying they're waiting to see the final language. And Comcast, which filed a lawsuit when the FCC attempted to enforce informal net neutrality rules late last year, has voiced initial support for Genachowski's proposal.
AT&T was previously a leading voice against net neutrality rules, however. The Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance, representing six midsize broadband providers including Qwest Communications International and FairPoint Communications, has also voiced opposition to the proposed rules. There is "no factual basis to regulate broadband, only unfounded fears," the group said in a Dec. 17 letter to congressional leaders.
To preview the FCC's vote, here's a net neutrality primer:
What's in the proposal?
Genachowski's plan is reportedly based on a net neutrality compromise brokered by outgoing House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat. Waxman met behind closed doors with broadband providers, Web-based companies and net neutrality advocates earlier this year, but the compromise fell apart in Congress after committee Republicans declined to endorse it.
Under Genachowski's proposal, the FCC would prohibit broadband providers from blocking customer access to legal Web content. The FCC would also require providers to disclose their network management practices to customers.
The proposal would bar wireline-based broadband providers from "unreasonable discrimination" against Web traffic, but it would not impose that same rule on mobile broadband providers. The FCC would watch mobile broadband providers closely and act if it sees evidence of anticonsumer or anticompetitive conduct, Genachowski said in a speech.
The proposal would not reclassify broadband as regulated, common-carrier service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, as Genachowski proposed earlier this year. Broadband would stay classified as a lightly regulated information service under Title I.
More details of the proposal will come out during the FCC meeting, which starts at 10:30 a.m. EST Tuesday.
What to watch for at the meeting
The commission's two Republicans, Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker, have voiced strong opposition to the proposal. But there's not guaranteed support from the commission's three Democrats, either. Commissioner Michael Copps has expressed doubt about whether the FCC has the authority to enact formal net neutrality rules without reclassifying broadband as a common-carrier service.