- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 22, 2009

NEW YORK | Wireless carriers shouldn’t be allowed to block certain types of Internet traffic flowing over their networks, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said Monday in a speech that drew a cool response from the industry.

Unless it could be done carefully, the plan risks stifling investment in Internet access, telecommunications executives said. Their sentiments were echoed by Republicans in Washington, who questioned whether the FCC was on the verge of making unprecedented steps to regulate the Internet.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said wireless carriers should be subject to the same “open Internet” principles that the agency has begun to apply to home broadband providers. That may mean that a carrier couldn’t, for example, ban the use of file-sharing services on its wireless network, which AT&T; Inc. does now.

Essentially, Mr. Genachowski wants to codify the principles the FCC has already been applying to wired Internet traffic - and extend them to wireless.

Jim Cicconi, AT&T;’s top executive in Washington, said the company would be “very disappointed” if the FCC has already concluded that it needs to “regulate wireless services despite the absence of any compelling evidence of problems or abuse.”

Last year, the FCC sanctioned Comcast Corp. for secretly hampering file-sharing traffic by its cable-modem subscribers. In that ruling, the agency relied on broad “principles” of open Internet access that hadn’t previously been put to the test. The cable company filed suit, saying the FCC didn’t have the authority to tell it how to run its network. The case is still in federal appeals court.

Mr. Genachowski is now proposing to make it a formal rule that Internet carriers cannot discriminate against certain types of traffic by degrading service. That expands on the principle that they cannot “block” traffic, as articulated in a 2005 policy statement.

The other two Democratic commissioners on the five-seat FCC said Monday they supported the proposal, which will give Mr. Genachowski a majority to push through the proposal. The two Republican commissioners, Robert McDowell and Meredith Baker, urged caution, suggesting that new regulations not be based on a need to “alleviate the political pressures of the day.”

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas sought to stop the proposal outright, introducing an amendment to an appropriations bill that would deny the FCC the funding to explore and develop new regulatory mandates. It was co-sponsored by five Republicans.

“The case has simply not been made for what amounts to a significant regulatory intervention into a vibrant marketplace,” Mrs. Hutchison said.

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