Michael Copps, the swing vote at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission for a set of network neutrality rules, said Monday he will vote for the proposal.
The FCC is scheduled to vote Tuesday for net neutrality rules proposed by Chairman Julius Genachowski. The commission's two Republicans have said they plan to vote against the proposal, meaning Genachowski would need support from both his fellow Democrats, Copps and Mignon Clyburn, to approve the rules.
Copps has raised questions about Genachowski's proposal, which several net neutrality advocates have criticized as too weak. Earlier this month, Copps suggested that the best way to pass net neutrality rules would be for the FCC to reclassify broadband as a regulated, common-carrier service.
But Copps on Monday said he planned to vote for Genachowski's proposal, even though it would not reclassify broadband as the chairman had earlier advocated. Copps suggested there have been changes to the proposal since Genachowski first announced it earlier this month.
"The item we will vote on tomorrow is not the one I would have crafted," he said in a statement. "But I believe we have been able to make the current iteration better than what was originally circulated. If vigilantly and vigorously implemented by the commission -- and if upheld by the courts -- it could represent an important milestone in the ongoing struggle to safeguard the awesome opportunity-creating power of the open Internet."
Copps said he cannot vote "wholeheartedly" for the proposal, but he would not block it, either.
"These past three weeks have been devoted on my part to intensive discussions about ensuring the continued openness of the Internet and putting consumers, not Big Phone and Big Cable, in maximum control of their online experiences," he said. "I have been fighting for nearly a decade to make sure the Internet doesn't travel down the same road of special interest consolidation and gate-keeper control that other media and telecommunications industries -- radio, television, film and cable -- have traveled. What a historic tragedy it would be to let that fate befall the dynamism of the Internet."
Genachowski's proposal would prohibit broadband providers from blocking customer access to legal Web content. If approved, the FCC would also require providers to disclose their network management practices to customers.
The proposal would bar wireline-based broadband providers from "unreasonable discrimination" against Web traffic, but it would not impose that same rule on mobile broadband providers.
Copps is supporting a "fake" net neutrality proposal, said Free Press, a media reform group that has pushed for strong net neutrality rules. Free Press and other net neutrality advocates have criticized the proposal for treating mobile broadband differently than wired broadband and for exempting managed services from net neutrality rules.
"We are deeply disappointed that this commission appears to be moving forward with deeply flawed rules that don't live up to the promises of the president or the FCC chairman to protect the free and open Internet," Craig Aaron, Free Press' managing director, said in a statement. "These rules appear to be flush with giant loopholes, and the FCC chairman seems far more concerned with winning the endorsement of AT&T and the cable lobbyists than with listening to the millions of Americans who have pleaded with him to fix his proposal."
Clyburn said Monday she will also vote for the proposal.
"The open Internet is a crucial American marketplace, and I believe that it is appropriate for the FCC to safeguard it by adopting an Order that will establish clear rules to protect consumers' access," she said in a statement. "The commission has worked tirelessly to offer a set of guidelines that, while not as strong as they could be, will nonetheless protect consumers as they explore, learn, and innovate online."
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 email@example.com.