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Regulation

A Season of Sanity, at Last?

2:00 PM -- Is Washington about to give broadband service providers an early Christmas gift, in the form of a more rational approach to net neutrality?

We should know more by Thursday of this week.

That's when Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Julius Genachowski would have to circulate any new proposal on net neutrality among his fellow commissioners, if it is to be considered at the Dec. 21 FCC meeting.

That meeting has been pushed back a week, prompting investment firm Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. Inc. to speculate that Genachowski may be producing a new net neutrality proposal that wouldn't pull broadband services back into the more heavily regulated realm of the Communications Act's Title II rules.

Cable and telecom service providers have been shuddering at the thought of seeing broadband subject to the same kinds of regulations once developed for monopoly voice, despite FCC claims that the full power of Title II would not be brought to bear. (See Cable Tees Off on FCC's 'Third Way' Proposal.)

It's also possible that Genachowski is taking note of what European regulators are doing -- and not doing -- regarding net neutrality and traffic management by broadband service providers.

On the heels of an announcement by the UK government that ISPs there would be allowed to charge content providers to prioritize their traffic, Neelie Kroes, vice president for the Digital Agenda at the European Commission , spoke on net neutrality and said the EC's policy goals will be to protect investment as well as competition.

Rather than impose new regulations that might discourage broadband investment, Kroes said the EC will focus on encouraging competition, requiring ISPs to keep consumers informed and aware of traffic management and other policies, and protecting the ability to switch providers so that consumers can easily "reward" both good and bad ISP behavior.

That approach builds in consumer protection without layering on onerous rules designed to solve a problem that doesn't yet exist. It's the kind of rational thinking that would be nice to see in D.C. -- at the holiday season or any other time.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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