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FCC Unlikely to Find Genachowski-style Compromise on Net Neutrality

The vote will almost certainly be along partisan lines.

Julius Genachowski

The polarization that has divided Washington is evident in the debate over net neutrality, the principle that all content and applications should get equal treatment online, making it harder than ever to reach the kind of consensus that was achieved during the tenure of Julius Genachowski as chairman of the U.S. communications watchdog.

Net neutrality is the idea that companies providing residential broadband service or wireless internet access should treat all online traffic equally. It says a person’s ISP shouldn’t be allowed to block or degrade access to certain websites or services, nor should it be allowed to set aside a “fast lane” that allows content favored by the ISP to load more quickly than the rest, said.

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Since the term was coined more than a decade ago, it has been at the center of the debate over internet regulation. Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the courts have all debated whether and how to protect net neutrality.

Advocates argue that net neutrality lowers barriers to entry online, allowing entrepreneurs to create new companies like Google, Facebook, and Dropbox. But critics warn that regulating the broadband market could be counterproductive, discouraging investment in internet infrastructure and limiting the flexibility of ISPs themselves to innovate, the report said.

On February 26, the FCC is expected to vote on new, stronger net neutrality rules that regulate internet access like a public utility. Net neutrality supporters have hailed the proposal, but it’s opposed by Republicans who say it will impose burdensome regulations on the internet, said.

The vote will almost certainly be along partisan lines, with the agency’s three Democrats supporting the proposal and its two Republicans opposing it.

Things used to be different. The net neutrality debate has never been perfectly bipartisan, but there used to be enough centrist Democrats and Republicans to make compromise a possibility.

During Barack Obama’s first term in the White House, his friend and fellow Democrat, Julius Genachowski, ran the FCC.

The son of Adele and Azriel Genachowski, Julius attended yeshiva and studied in Israel. He then attended Columbia University, graduating magna cum laude. Under his reign as FCC chairman, American firms installed more fiber optic cable for high-speed broadband in 2011 and 2012 than those of any nation other than China, and more than all European nations combined.

Genachowski considered regulating the internet like a public utility — the exact step the FCC is expected to take later this month. But Genachowski decided not to after receiving a letter from 282 members of Congress, including 74 Democrats, arguing that this would be a mistake.

So Genachowski sought a middle ground, establishing net neutrality rules without invoking the public-utility provisions of communications law. This proposal passed on a party-line three to two vote.

Unfortunately for Genachowski, the courts rejected the rules again in 2014, finding that strong net neutrality regulations were only legal if the agency first reclassified broadband as a public utility.

There is likely to be pressure on future Democratic nominees to support not just net neutrality in the abstract but the kind of strong net neutrality regulations that current FCC Chairman Wheeler has developed. In other words Democrats will face pressure not to appoint centrists like Julius Genachowski, the report said.



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