Net neutrality compromise won’t calm new Congress

December 21, 2010

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

WASHINGTON — Under the so-called net neutrality proposal from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, broadband access providers like Comcast and Verizon would be prevented from blocking or discriminating against lawful Internet traffic. But they would be allowed to sell faster service for those who want to deliver video, games and the like. And they could increase rates for subscribers who use the Internet for those tasks that hog bandwidth.

To a great extent, the rules codify a compromise plan cooked up last August by Verizon and Google. That blueprint acknowledged both the inevitability of some government rule-making and the need to better divvy up future costs and revenue between the layers of pipes and those who deliver material through them.

Both views will do battle on Capitol Hill. Democrat Senator Al Franken says the FCC’s plan is “worse than nothing.” Republicans, meanwhile, see the ruling as an initial effort by the Obama administration to lean on regulatory agencies now that Democrats no longer completely run Congress. Expect the GOP-controlled House to quickly pass a disapproval resolution under the Congressional Review Act to overturn the ruling. If the measure gets 51 votes in the Senate, it would be up to the president to sign or veto.

By trying to play Internet traffic cop, the FCC may wind up getting run down. In the meantime, it’s just creating logjams elsewhere.

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