FCC Meeting on Net Neutrality Delayed

The FCC postpones a meeting, leading to speculation that the agency is preparing to vote on net neutrality.

The Federal Communications Commission announced it is delaying a meeting concerning net neutrality to Dec. 21 from Dec. 2, leading some to speculate the agency is preparing to vote on the controversial issue.

Net neutrality is a principle that advocates no restrictions by Internet service providers on the content and sites users might access. "An extra week will help us evaluate potential agenda items for December," Jen Howard, a spokeswoman for the FCC, told the Washington Post last week.

In September, legislation aimed at regulating how Internet providers such as Comcast offer Internet service to their customers collapsed. The bill, sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman and Sen. Harry Waxman, D-Calif., would have curbed the FCC's ability to enforce the guidelines laid out in the bill after two years. The agency would also not be allowed to impose additional rules on Internet service providers, a leaked draft of the bill mandated.

A lack of support from Republicans made it impossible for the legislation to pass before Congress' midterm elections, Waxman said following the collapse. The proposed legislation was termed as a temporary fix to protect net neutrality while Congress considered a permanent solution. Waxman's proposal for the FCC would see the agency move phone and cable companies into the Title II, or Broadcast Servers, section of the Telecommunications Act passed in 1996.

Title II outlines the granting and licensing of broadcast spectrum by the government, including a provision to issue licenses to current television stations to commence digital television broadcasting, the terms of broadcast licenses, direct broadcast satellite services and restrictions on over-the-air reception devices.

"The signals out there seem to be they are in fact contemplating a vote in December," Jeffrey Silva, a telecommunications policy analyst with Medley Global Advisors, told Reuters about the meeting's rescheduling. "The situation's very fluid at the present time, and I think they're carefully considering the message they've received from Capitol Hill and trying to figure out their next step."

Silva told Reuters that whatever comes out would leave a lot of flexibility for wireless in light of their spectrum challenges and some of the different network management challenges they have. "Post midterm [elections], the prospects are less that the FCC would go forward with the [reclassification] option. You have to wonder what the incentive would be for the industry to go along with any kind of regulatory add-on," he said.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski recently blamed the lack of a new policy for network neutrality on a federal court's decision to expel his agency's bid to regulate Comcast's online management. When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit threw out the FCC's decision to regulate Comcast's online management April 6, it derailed the FCC's plans, Genachowski said.

The chairman made the comments at the Web 2.0 Summit in Washington earlier this month, noting the agency was "on course to adopt smart, sensible rules when we got a frustrating and seriously incorrect decision" that caused additional complications for the FCC. "We're dealing with that," he said. "We have terrific, smart lawyers trying to figure out the best way, the best basis on which we can rest rules. That will happen."