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FCC's Copps Calls For Broadband Reclassification

As Congress, the courts and the FCC continue what appears to be an inexorable slide toward relaxing oversight of the nation's delivery of broadband access, Federal Communications commissioner Michael J. Copps has emerged as a voice against the trend.

In a speech delivered Thursday night at the Columbia University School of Journalism, Copps, a Democrat, argued that the FCC's current deliberations over net neutrality should involve reclassifying rules as Title II telecommunications, which would bring carriers and cable companies under increased regulation. Copps' stance could put him in conflict with FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, also a Democrat.

Arguing that "Internet Freedom also means guaranteeing openness in the wireless world as well as the wired," Copps called for wireless net neutrality access to be increased. "I continue to believe this is the best way to go -- we should just do it and get it over with."

Genachowski, who has been struggling to find a compromise for net neutrality that he believes could be stomached by Congress and a Washington appeals court that has already favored Comcast in the issue, indicated earlier this week that he believes the issue could be dealt with through the more carrier-friendly existing Title I rules. Carriers like Verizon and Comcast have argued in favor of a more self-regulatory, "trust us" approach to net neutrality.

The net neutrality issue -- scheduled for a FCC vote on Dec. 21 - has been the subject of fierce argument from many sides, chiefly pitting consumer groups against carriers.

In his remarks, Copps said, "To expect openness, transparency, non-discrimination and consumer protections to evolve from strictly private management of our nation's critical information infrastructure is to expect what never was or ever will be."
The details of the FCC net neutrality vote scheduled for later this month haven't been released yet, but the early indications are that it will follow earlier efforts by Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Waxman has attempted to work out a compromise that will be palatable for Congress.

Copps' impassioned public stance on the issue raises a new possibility: that he could hold out against the other two Democrats -- Genachowski and commissioner Mignon Clyburn -- for a more consumer-friendly resolution. The two Republican commissioners, Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker, have already indicated they will vote against the net neutrality issue at the meeting.


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