FCC Chief Seen Edging Toward 'Net Neutrality' Rules Will the government take steps to keep Internet service providers from charging different rates for different levels of service? FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski may tip his hand when he speaks at the Brookings Institution on Monday.
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FCC Chief Seen Edging Toward 'Net Neutrality' Rules

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FCC Chief Seen Edging Toward 'Net Neutrality' Rules

FCC Chief Seen Edging Toward 'Net Neutrality' Rules

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski is scheduled to make a speech tomorrow at the Brookings Institution here in Washington, D.C. He will address the subject of network neutrality. Now, it sounds a bit geeky, but if the FCC takes action on this issue, it will affect every American's access to the Internet.

NPR's Laura Sydell is following this story and she joins us. Laura, first, what is network neutrality?

LAURA SYDELL: Well, it's actually what we already have on the net. Basically, you get on, right? You go to a Web site and no matter whose Web site it is, it comes up quick and it comes up easy. The concern is that essentially what the ISPs would do - Time Warner or Comcast - might start to actually implement something like tiered service.

So, for example, you have Amazon. You go there to buy a book and you have mom and pop's bookstore, right? And you can go to each one and it's pretty much the same speed. What would happen is they might actually start to charge Amazon extra money for a faster connection; they'd make a deal. So, that means you'd go to Amazon, the connection would be really fast; you go to mom and pop's bookstore, the connection wouldn't be so fast.

Now, this would kind of change the game. And it's interesting. Lining up on one side are the cable companies and the telecoms, and they're the ones who don't want any regulation that would put an end to the way things are. They want to just be able to do this the way they'd like to do it. On the other side, you have companies like Google, Yahoo!, consumer advocacy groups and the Christian Coalition.

HANSEN: Laura, why does the Christian Coalition support net neutrality?

SYDELL: They're concerned that Comcast or your ISP, whoever it is, would actually start to regulate speech in some way. So, even though one would think this might be a conservative/liberal issue, it's not. You also have MoveOn.org, for example, and the Christian Coalition supporting network neutrality.

HANSEN: Does the FCC chairman support this, and if so, why?

SYDELL: Yeah, he has actually been a big supporter. And he actually advised then-candidate Obama on this issue. And President Obama has been a strong supporter of network neutrality and stuck behind this issue, unlike the previous administration, which was more hands-off about it.

HANSEN: Elaborate on why cable and telecom companies oppose it.

SYDELL: Well, basically, there's an issue here where they say the government should just let the market do exactly what the market wants to do on this issue. So, everything has gone fine so far on the Internet, the government shouldn't regulate anything.

They also say - and this has been, for President Obama, this has been very, very important. He says he wants more and more people to be able to get access to broadband. And they're saying the only way they're going to be able to afford to do this, to give people high-speed Internet access and faster Internet access is, in fact, if they can charge more. So, the only way they're going to be able to do that is if they have some kind of tiered service.

HANSEN: Tell us in, if you can, in the few seconds we have left, why are people are interested in the speech and what happens afterwards?

SYDELL: Well, essentially, he has said in the past that he supports some kind of regulation of the Internet and keeping it as it is. And there is a lot of speculation that in his speech, he's going to announce that the FCC is actually going to begin the process of making rules to enforce network neutrality.

HANSEN: And then what happens?

SYDELL: Well, then what will begin is probably a long process. As so many things happen in the government, it won't happen tomorrow. There's likely to be public hearings, members of Congress could weigh in and so forth. So nothing is likely to happen very quickly.

HANSEN: NPR's Laura Sydell, thanks a lot.

SYDELL: You're welcome.

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