One day after the demise in Congress of legislation that would have protected net neutrality -- the principle that broadband providers shouldn't play favorites with web content -- all eyes have turned back the Federal Communications Commission, which is under mounting pressure to act on the issue.
Supporters of net neutrality have urged FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (pictured) to reclassify broadband from a Title I "information service" to a Title II "communications service," which would give the commission the authority it needs to enforce net neutrality. The broadband companies have vigorously opposed such a move, saying it could lead to price controls and runaway litigation, while supporters argue that net neutrality is necessary to ensure innovation of the Internet.
On Thursday, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) urged the FCC, which has been caught in jurisdictional limbo ever since a federal judge ruled in April that the agency lacked the authority to enforce net neutrality, to reclassify broadband.
"While I appreciate all the work that has been done in the House on net neutrality, I continue to believe that the best way to preserve the free and open Internet is for the FCC to act now to reclassify broadband under Title II," Dorgan said in a statement.
"All of us who believe in an Internet without gatekeepers or tollbooths should be calling on the chairman to reclassify broadband in a manner that re-imposes the nondiscrimination rules on the large Internet providers," he added.
On Wednesday. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, announced that Republicans, led by ranking committee member Joe Barton (R-Texas) had refused to support a compromise bill that would have prevented phone and cable companies from discriminating against legal web content, while also protecting them "from the threat of reclassification for two years."
Lawmakers Spar Over Reclassification
"This development is a loss for consumers and a gain only for the extremes," Waxman said in a statement. "We need to break the deadlock on net neutrality so that we can focus on building the most open and robust Internet possible."
"If our efforts to find bipartisan consensus fail, the FCC should move forward under Title II," Waxman added. "The bottom line is that we must protect the open Internet. If Congress can't act, the FCC must."
Barton issued a statement opposing such a move, and even suggested that Congress could pass a law prohibiting reclassification. "It is not appropriate to give the FCC authority to regulate the Internet," Barton said. "If the Congress wants to prevent the FCC reclassifying Internet service under Title II, it should go ahead and do so without qualification."
"This is not a solution for the future of the Internet," Barton added. "America should be about preserving the vibrant and competitive free market that exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by federal or state regulation."
Interest Groups Urge FCC Action
Meanwhile, public interest groups that support net neutrality are calling on the FCC to move swiftly to reclassify broadband.
"We are in full agreement with Chairman Waxman that the FCC must act now to protect consumers by reinstating its authority over broadband," said Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, a pro-net neutrality group. "We expect the FCC to do so to carry out one of the fundamental promises of the Obama administration. Consumers for far too long have been without the legal protections the FCC can provide."
"We can wait no longer," Sohn added. "We expect those members of Congress who argued that it was Congress's duty to set telecommunications policy would recognize the authority of the FCC in the absence of legislation."
Other groups, including Free Press and the Consumer Federation of America, issued similar statements urging the FCC to act. And even Barry Diller, chairman of Web conglomerate IAC, on Wednesday strongly urged companies that operate on the Internet to back net neutrality.
"All of you have to get out there and start arguing for this strongly," Diller said during remarks at the Techcrunch Disrupt conference. "It is the lives of you all and the people coming after you: We have to protect that."
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