AUDIE CORNISH, host:
There's a debate about control of the Internet going on in this country, too, about the regulation of broadband Internet service. The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission weighed in on net neutrality this week with new proposals to prevent cable, phone, and other companies from playing favorites in providing access to the Web.
Criticism came quickly, as Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE: Ever since he took the job, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has been promising new rules of the road for the phone and cable companies that provide broadband access, as well as the companies and consumers that depend on it.
Mr. JULIUS GENACHOWSKI (Chairman, Federal Communications Commission): It is the Internet's openness and freedom - the ability to speak, innovate and engage in commerce without having to ask anyone's permission - that has enabled the Internet's unparalleled success.
ROSE: In a brief appearance on Wednesday, Genachowski sketched out the rules that he said would ensure that broadband providers treat all of the data on their networks equally, an idea known as net neutrality. But some public interest groups have seen a few more details than Genachowski announced. And they say the proposed rules are net neutrality in name only.
Mr. SASCHA MEINRATH (New America Foundation): What you have is a lot of consumer groups coming out and looking at this and saying, this is a real nightmare.
ROSE: Sascha Meinrath is with the New America Foundation, a think-tank in Washington, D.C. He says the proposed rules are full of loopholes.
Mr. MEINRATH: For one thing, they would allow broadband providers to offer faster service to some companies for a price. These rules could end up allowing companies to pick and choose the services and the applications and even the content that we are allowed to see online. What it does is it gives legal protection for discriminatory behavior.
ROSE: Maybe the biggest loophole, says Meinrath, is that the rules would exempt wireless networks from much of the regulation governing the old-fashioned wired Internet. Net neutrality supporters hope to close that loophole, and they have an advocate in FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who spoke Thursday night at the Columbia School of Journalism in New York.
Mr. MICHAEL COPPS (Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission): Internet freedom also means guaranteeing openness in the wireless world as well as the wired. As people cut their wired connections, why would we deny them openness, accessibility and consumer protections in a wireless world?
ROSE: The wireless companies argue that they need the flexibility to manage traffic on their networks so that a few users can't hog all the bandwidth. Those companies - particularly AT&T - offered lukewarm support for the proposed FCC rules. But Verizon's Link Hoewing still thinks it's Congress, not the FCC, that should be setting policy for the Internet.
Mr. LINK HOEWING (Assistant Vice President of Internet and Technology Issues, Verizon): We do need the Congress to look at the antiquated communications policy we have today. It just doesn't really fit the Internet. So I think ultimately it still needs to be addressed by Congress.
ROSE: That's not likely to happen anytime soon. Key Republicans in Congress have said Internet providers don't need any new regulation, and they'll try to block the FCC from imposing any. That leaves Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski with few friends on any side of the debate.
Professor KEVIN WERBACH (Legal Studies and Business Ethics, Wharton School): No one was particularly happy with what the FCC chairman is proposing. But that doesn't mean it's not the right answer.
ROSE: Kevin Werbach is a professor at the Wharton School, and a former technology consultant to the Obama administration.
Prof. WERBACH: I can certainly understand those in the public interest community who would like to see something stronger. But having something in place, from their perspective, is going to be much better than having nothing. And the reality is nothing is the alternative.
ROSE: The FCC is scheduled to vote on the proposed rules on December 21st. If they pass, then the real tests - both legal and political - will begin.
For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.
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