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FCC Chairman to Outline Broadband Regulation Compromise

Julius Genachowski eyes Dec. 21 vote on latest net neutrality plan, which could delay agency's decision on the Comcast-NBC Universal merger.

NEW YORK – FCC chairman Julius Genachowski will on Wednesday outline a new plan for the regulation of broadband providers in the hope of getting these so-called “net neutrality” rules passed at a meeting on Dec. 21, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported.

If things go as planned, that would put the new regulatory framework, seen as a compromise between the interests of different groups and industries, into place before the new Congress starts in January. But more debate is expected in the coming weeks between groups with an interest in the issue before the FCC commissioners vote on the new proposal.

According to the Journal, the plan could also slightly delay the FCC’s decision on the planned Comcast-NBC Universal deal, which the firms hope to clear with regulators by year’s end. 

According to the reports, Genachowski’s latest proposal would prohibit broadband providers from discriminating against lawful traffic, but allow them to charge heavy users of streaming movies and other bandwidth-intensive services more. It would also leave some less regulated room for wireless broadband providers.

"Broadband providers have natural business incentives to leverage their position as gatekeepers to the Internet," the Times said Genachowski will say in a speech on the topic Wednesday. "The record in the proceeding we’ve run over the past year, as well as history, shows that there are real risks to the Internet’s continued freedom and openness."

Different entertainment industry and public interest groups, as well as unions have kept a close eye on net neutrality plans. Content providers have highlighted the need to allow broadband providers to fight piracy. And creatives and public interest organizations have argued in favor of an open Internet and expressed fears that if the rules allow web sites to pay ISPs more for faster access, large media players would gain an advantage over independent creators.

Cable and telecom companies, including Comcast, would prefer no net neutrality rules and have suggested Congress, not the FCC, should be in charge.

In 2008, the FCC said Comcast violated federal Internet policy when it blocked or slowed down transmissions by its broadband customers via peer-to-peer file sharing service BitTorrent. This spring, a court sided with Comcast, arguing that the FCC doesn’t have authority.

Genachowski unveiled a net neutrality proposal last year, but the spring court decision created broader questions about the FCC's authority to enforce rules, which led to negotiations between the FCC and various industry and interest groups about a new compromise proposal.