Snowe pans FCC plan on net neutrality

Sen. Olympia Snowe, the most vocal net neutrality supporter among GOP senators, has joined her colleagues in urging Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski not to change the regulatory classification of broadband service.

Snowe said she supports the commission's goal of keeping the Internet open and expanding broadband to all Americans, but that she sees "significant drawbacks" in Genachowski's proposal to change broadband's regulatory status. The centrist Republican senator from Maine said Genachowski's effort could create uncertainty that would "hamper or delay investment in much-needed broadband."

The criticism was included in a letter from Snowe to Genachowski dated Tuesday.

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The chairman's proposal would change broadband service from a lightly-regulated "Title I" information service to a heavily-regulated "Title II" telecommunications service under the Communications Act. 

Genachowski plans to launch the effort this month, and sees it as a way to ensure the FCC has the authority to write net neutrality rules and expand Internet access. Genachowski would place broadband services under the same title as telephone services, but in a nod to broadband companies would strip from the FCC Title II the most onerous regulations, including price controls.

The maneuver follows an April appeals court decision that undermined the agency's authority to act on key agenda items, including net neutrality.

Snowe has repeatedly introduced net neutrality legislation designed to rein in how cable and phone companies can treat the traffic that rides over their networks.

But she indicated she strongly opposes the reclassification effort, and said congressional action to streamline broadband policies is preferable to Genachowski's plan.

Snowe warned that putting broadband services under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act would place new technologies under regulatory burdens designed decades before the Internet was launched.

"Title II includes numerous prescriptive regulatory obligations — close to 50 different sections — many of which were created in 1934 and do not properly capture technological advancements," Snowe said.

She said she supports the calls by the chairmen of key congressional committees to start work on updating the Communications Act.

Experts have said that may take years, but Snowe said she sees "growing consensus" around the need for broadband regulations that would protect consumers and prevent anti-competitive practices.