As the Federal Communications Commission moves to intensify broadband communications regulations under a set of rules already in existence for phone companies, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's chief of staff, Edward Lazarus, scheduled closed-door meetings with industry leaders such as AT&T and Verizon Communications.
"The FCC is hosting discussions seeking a consensus on Internet access rules and that they plan to have a whole series of stakeholder meetings," a senior FCC official told Reuters.
Watchdog group Free Press President and CEO Josh Silver was quick to condemn the "back-room" negotiations, calling it "stunning" that the FCC would convene meetings between industry giants to allow them determine how the agency should best protect the public interest.
"The Obama administration promised a new era of transparency, and to 'take a backseat to no one' on net neutrality, but these meetings seem to indicate that this FCC has no problem brokering back-room deals without any public input or scrutiny," Silver said.
The telecommunications industry has been expressing concern that regulation could strangle growth and innovation and hamper the U.S. economy. After the FCC's plan to advance its net neutrality proposals with a Notice of Inquiry passed in a 3-2 vote the week of June 14, AT&T and Verizon blasted the commission's planned reclassification of broadband Internet under Title II of the Communications Act. Rival Sprint, on the other hand, released a relatively neutral statement, even praising the FCC's "thoughtful approach" to the issue.
Adding to the debate was a report issued June 17 by the Advanced Communications Law & Policy Institute at New York Law School and technology research company Entropy Economics, which warned that new regulations for providers of broadband Internet service could result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and reduce U.S. Gross Domestic Product by tens of billions of dollars per year. The authors argued that because net neutrality could foreclose even larger investments than presumed in the paper's baseline scenario, the number of jobs lost could be even greater than the 10 to 30 percent drop the report forecast, up to 700,000 jobs lost.
"It is odd that the FCC would even think it is appropriate to be brokering such a deal, given the agency's authority is in jeopardy. Without reasserting its legal authority over broadband, the FCC can't implement whatever unlikely consensus is reached by these industry giants," Silver said. "The FCC must abandon this misguided effort and follow through with its plan to re-establish its legal authority to promote universal access and protect the open Internet."