After more than five years of hemming and hawing, the FCC appears close to voting on net neutrality, the hotly contested means of overseeing Internet access.
The FCC has postponed its Dec. 2 meeting to Dec. 21, prompting speculation the agency is getting its ducks in a row for a vote on the politically polarized issue. The three Democratic commissioners are expected to vote -- now or later -- for a consumer-friendly regulation on Internet access, while the two Republican members are expected to hold out for relatively unfettered oversight favoring industry players.
Back in August, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Senate communications subcommittee, predicted the FCC would likely move ahead on net neutrality itself, because he believed Congress couldn’t deal with the issue. Since then, the national election has produced a bumper crop of new Republican legislators, making it even more unlikely Congress would support any tough net neutrality oversight in its next session, starting in January.
Adding to the debate is the case of OpenDNS. The company, which provides open domain system solutions, has complained that Verizon Communications is already blocking its service, which OpenDNS calls an infringement of net neutrality policies.
In its defense, a Verizon spokesperson has been quoted as saying the company’s engineers “see no issue from our end.” More generally, Verizon and Comcast, two leading telecom carriers, have argued that regulation of the Internet as proposed by the FCC would stifle business growth and innovation.
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has spoken of a “third way” solution for the net neutrality issue, an attempt to find a middle ground between carriers and the lawmakers and policy makers who favor more oversight in Internet access, particularly in the rapidly expanding wireless arena.
"We suspect the Democrats could ultimately support a Title I order, but they may seek some sort of concessions on this or other matters," wrote Stifel Nicholaus analyst Rebecca Arbogast, in a research report quoted in The Washington Post last week. "Of concern for the Bells in particular, the chairman (Genachowski) could seek to strengthen wireless net neutrality duties, but we believe the Bells have significant leverage to push back against such provisions, given the FCC desire for industry backing or at least acceptance. Such support could be especially critical in light of House Republican threats that a net neutrality order would produce a backlash."
Also looming over the deliberations is the Court of Appeals of Washington, which has ruled against net neutrality policies in favor of Comcast. The court will likely be the final arbiter of whatever happens with net neutrality.