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CES Panel Debates Net Neutrality, With Carriers Complaining About FCC Rules

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LAS VEGAS, January 6, 2011 - Government and industry representatives gathered Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show for a panel discussion on the merits of the FCC's recent Open Internet Order and its effects on the broadband industry.

Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post moderated the panel, which was part of the Tech Policy Summit series at CES, instigating discussions ranging from whether the FCC had the appropriate authority to issue the Order, to what impact participants felt it would have on the future of the Internet.

The FCC Open Internet Order lays out three principles by which internet service providers (ISPs) must abide.  First, ISPs must provide services in a transparent manner by disclosing their network management practices and performance characteristics.  Second, network providers must not block lawful content from their customers, and third, providers may not unreasonably discriminate by prioritizing certain network traffic without sufficient reason.

A representative from each of network providers AT&T and Verizon indicated that their companies opposed the order.  Both, however, indicated that they felt the FCC had done a good job in a difficult position.

"The FCC did a great job of dealing with this issue," said Tom Tauke, an executive vice president of public affairs and policy at Verizon.  "The fact is that Congress hasn't addressed this issue... the FCC was working on shaky statutory authority."

James Cicconi, senior vice president of external and legislative affairs at AT&T, asserted that the regulation was unnecessary and imposed a burden on the industry based on hypothetical situations.

"The problem when you're dealing with hypotheticals, is that there is an infinite variety," he said.  "If you try to legislate or regulate every one of them, you can shut down what you're trying to protect."

Rick Whitt, Washington media and telecommunications counsel for Google, supported the measure due to its moderate nature.

"This should be seen as an interim step - nothing happens in big steps in Washington," said Whitt, going on to call the policy one "not of 'wait and see,' but rather of 'watch and see.'"

The issue has also become a lightning rod for political debate, with many Republicans in the House vowing to use the newly-acquired majority to strike down the Order.

Neil Fried, Republican chief counsel on communications and technology matters for the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House of Representatives, indicated that reversing the Order was a high priority for Republicans in the 112th Congress.

"Net Neutrality is where we start on our tech policy docket," he said, calling the Order a burden on business.

Roger Sherman, Democratic chief counsel for communications and technology policy for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, countered Fried's assertions.

"We think it's just the opposite. We think net neutrality protects the internet," said Sherman, while leaving the possibility of alternative solutions on the table.  "If the GOP wants to open this issue and talk about ways to protect the internet rather than just gut what the FCC has done, we're certainly open to that"

Jonathan began his career as a journalist before turning his focus to law and policy. He is an attorney licensed in Texas and the District of Columbia and has worked previously as a political reporter, in political campaign communications and on Capitol Hill. He holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Washington and a J.D. from Villanova Law School, where he focused his studies on Internet and intellectual property law and policy. He lives in Washington, D.C., where he roots for Seattle sports teams and plays guitar in his free time.

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