Net-neutrality agreement sparks concerns

Broadband providers also insist that they need flexibility to manage traffic so that high-bandwidth applications don’t hog capacity and slow down their networks for everyone else.

Verizon and Google unveiled their proposal less than a week after the FCC abandoned its efforts to negotiate a compromise on net-neutrality regulations that the broadband industry would accept.

According to one person close to the FCC talks, the Verizon-Google deal undermined the discussions taking place at the FCC and progress that had been made toward an industry-wide compromise. This person said FCC officials fear the proposal from Google and Verizon will not do enough to prevent phone and cable companies from using their control over broadband connections to become online gatekeepers.

“We have called off this round of stakeholder discussions,” FCC Chief of Staff Edward Lazarus said in an Aug. 5 statement. “It has been productive on several fronts, but has not generated a robust framework to preserve the openness and freedom of the internet–one that drives innovation, investment, free speech, and consumer choice. All options remain on the table as we continue to seek broad input on this vital issue.”

At this point, it’s unclear what the FCC’s next step will be. Before it moves ahead with any net-neutrality proposal, the agency first must establish its authority to regulate broadband in the aftermath of a federal appeals court ruling in April that cast doubt on its existing regulatory framework.

The FCC currently treats broadband as a lightly regulated “information service” and had argued that this approach gave it ample authority to mandate net neutrality. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected this argument in ruling that the FCC had overstepped its authority when it ordered Comcast to stop blocking its subscribers from using the online file-sharing service BitTorrent to swap movies and other large files.

The FCC has sought public comments about a proposal to treat broadband as a telecommunications service subject to limited regulation, but that proposal faces stiff opposition (and likely legal challenges) from the broadband industry.

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