FCC vote on 'net neutrality' will kick off long battle
By Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. efforts to set new Internet traffic rules face a lengthy tug of war between broadband providers and Republicans on one side and some tech companies and consumer advocates on the other as regulators prepare to propose the rules formally on Thursday.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has expanded the issues and questions raised in his "open Internet" proposal to sway his two Democratic colleagues on the five-member panel, though some consumer advocates remain unhappy.
Public interest groups including Free Press plan to deliver petitions with more than 1 million signatures to the FCC and stage a protest against Wheeler's proposal that may allow Internet providers to charge some content companies for faster and more reliable delivery.
Consumer advocates worry that "fast lanes" for content companies willing to pay up would leave startups and others behind. They call on the FCC to reclassify Internet providers as utilities, like telephone companies, rather than the less-regulated information services they are now.
That plan is vehemently opposed by broadband companies, which are lobbying lawmakers and the FCC against such a possibility.
More than two dozen CEOs of broadband companies including AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc wrote to FCC members on Tuesday, saying reclassification of their companies and Internet openness had "nothing to do" with each other.
Six Senate Republican leaders, including Mitch McConnell, also wrote to Wheeler on Tuesday, calling on him to abandon his "politically corrosive" net neutrality rulemaking.
Both sides are gearing up for a prolonged battle, assuming the FCC votes to move ahead with the new rules. A public comment period is expected to run through July 25, with replies to initial comments accepted until September 10, according to an FCC official. Continued...