FCC chairman affirms net neutrality stance

The FCC remains committed to enforcing principles intended to ensure unobstructed access to Internet content, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski affirmed in an interview with CongressDaily.

While much of the agency's manpower is focused on the tight statutory timeline for crafting a national broadband plan, network neutrality is still a top priority, he said Monday, adding there is "no confusion in the marketplace" about whether this administration will be active on the issue.

In April, then-acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps indicated that a major expansion of the commission's network neutrality framework would be forthcoming under Genachowski. Copps said the agency planned to add a fifth principle that would bar high-speed Internet providers from engaging in discriminatory behavior, prohibiting them from blocking or degrading competitors or prioritizing access to their content and services.

At Genachowski's June confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, he described his vision for the commission as "a model for excellence in government -- fighting for consumers and families, fostering investment and innovation via open, fair and data-driven processes."

During a televised White House event in May, President Obama himself said he remained "firmly committed to net neutrality so we can keep the Internet as it should be -- open and free."

Ben Scott, policy director at Free Press, said today that it was "only a matter of time" before the FCC begins to move forward on net neutrality. The FCC has sought public comment on a handful of topics this month and Scott said he expects that by September or October, Genachowski will have proposed rules on his key priorities -- and his group hopes network neutrality will be among them.

Meanwhile, Genachowski said his general counsel, Austin Schlick, is "focusing on what exactly the right strategy is" in a court challenge brought by Comcast Corp. that alleges the FCC overstepped its authority to enforce net neutrality principles.

Initial briefs were filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in July and final briefs are due Nov. 23. It is unlikely that an oral argument could occur before early spring 2010 and a final ruling is probably a year away, a Comcast spokeswoman said.

The chairman is also keeping an eye on Capitol Hill. Reps. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., introduced legislation on the day the House adjourned for its August recess that would bar Internet providers from using the claim of network management to impose their own priorities on data traffic.

Scott said he expects a Senate companion piece to emerge soon. Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, championed the effort there during the last Congress.

Open Internet groups cheered the Markey-Eshoo measure but telecom interests panned it. U.S. Telecom Association President Walter McCormick issued a statement saying the bill would "not preserve Internet freedom, but would instead lead to a government-managed Internet."