FCC Scheduled Vote on Net Neutrality This Month

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will attempt to push through new network neutrality rules this month, over potential objections by many members of Congress and some broadband providers.

A vote on a net neutrality order is tentatively scheduled for the commission's Dec. 21 meeting, according to an agenda released just after midnight Wednesday.

The vote is scheduled about a month before Republicans, many of the opposed to new net neutrality rules, will take over the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, likely killing any chance of net neutrality rules passing in Congress.

The FCC order would adopt "basic rules of the road to preserve the open Internet as a platform for innovation, investment, competition, and free expression," the agenda said. "These rules would protect consumers' and innovators' right to know basic information about broadband service, right to send and receive lawful Internet traffic, and right to a level playing field, while providing broadband Internet access providers with the flexibility to reasonably manage their networks."

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is scheduled to outline the proposal at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time in at the agency's headquarters. Initial reports suggested that Genachowski's proposal does not seek to reclassify broadband as a regulated, common-carrier service, as he had proposed in May.

Groups calling for stronger net neutrality rules had a mixed reaction to the announcement.

The Media Access Project, a communications policy group in favor of stronger rules, is disappointed with reports that Genachowski's new proposal may not have strong net neutrality rules for mobile carriers and doesn't reclassify broadband, said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, senior vice president and policy director at MAP.

The proposal also appears to include some "loopholes" for broadband providers, he said. "MAP will work with the commissioners to improve this draft, but it is unlikely that MAP can support it in its present form," Schwartzman added.

But reclassification could come at a later date, said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a digital rights group that has long called for stronger net neutrality rules. Public Knowledge called on the FCC to tackle reclassification soon as a way to "establish a firmer legal foundation" for net neutrality rules, Sohn said.

"Public Knowledge looks forward to working with the commission to strengthen the order so that consumers and the vitality of the Internet are protected," Sohn said in a statement.

The FCC stepped up efforts to pass net neutrality rules earlier this year, after a U.S. appeals court ruled in April that the agency overstepped its authority when attempting to enforce informal net neutrality principles in a case involving Comcast throttling peer-to-peer traffic on its network.

Just this week, broadband backbone provider Level 3 Communications and modem maker Zoom Telephonics complained that Comcast is violating net neutrality principles in its dealings with the two companies.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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