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FCC Considers Broadband Regulation

Major high technology providers are divided over the FCC’s plan -- in a 3-2 vote Thursday -- to consider the reregulation of Internet broadband.

The big three broadband carriers -- AT&T, Comcast and Verizon -- issued statements opposing the FCC’s decision to conduct an inquiry into whether broadband should be classified as a telecommunications service, giving the FCC more regulatory power over the carriers. Content providers like Amazon, Google and Skype, however, favored the FCC action.

AT&T looked far out -- to the courts that have already spoken on the issue -- and suggested the FCC would be overturned by “the courts.” In a statement, Jim Cicconi AT&T senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs said of the FCC’s action: “This is impossible to justify on either a policy or legal basis, and we remain confident that if the FCC persists in its course -- and we truly hope it does not -- the courts will surely overturn their action.”

A federal appeals court has already sided with the carriers in a recent decision in which it favored Comcast.

As for Comcast, it, too, questioned the FCC action, although it indicated it was open to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski’s suggestion that a “third way” compromise on the issue could be a “rational next step as all stakeholders continue to work together to keep the Internet ecosystem growing and open.”

Verizon was more blunt in its criticism of the FCC. “Reclassifying high-speed broadband Internet service as a telecom service is a terrible idea,” said Verizon’s Tom Tauke in a statement. “The negative consequences for online users and the Internet ecosystem would be severe and have ramifications for decades.” Tauke is Verizon’s executive vice president for public affairs, policy and communications.

Like others, Tauke suggested that Congress should address the issue and pass new legislation to replace the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

On the other side of the issue is the Open Internet Coalition whose members include Amazon, eBay, Google, and Skype. The organization’s executive director, Markham Erickson, said: “There is a real urgency to this because right now there are no rules of the road to protect consumers from even the most egregious discriminatory behavior by telephone and cable companies.”