FCC set to vote on net-neutrality rules

In an effort to meet an Obama campaign promise, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski indicated Wednesday that he will propose new regulations for Internet lines.

His attempt to revive the long-delayed net-neutrality proceeding is a delicate balancing act designed to garner some industry and public interest support without completely satisfying anyone.

"I am gratified by the broad support this proposal has already received this morning -- including from leading Internet and technology companies, founders and investors; consumer and public interest groups, unions, civil rights organizations, and broadband providers," he said.

To gin up support, Genachowski has made concessions to AT&T, Verizon, and the cable industry that could forestall an all-out lobbying blitz by the nation's largest telecom providers. The companies issued generally supportive statements about the proposal on Wednesday.

AT&T policy executive Jim Cicconi said in a statement that the company is "pleased that the FCC appears to be embracing a compromise solution that is sensitive to the dynamics of investment in a difficult economy and appears to avoid over-regulation."

But Genachowski's concessions to industry have done nothing to help him with House Republicans, who oppose net-neutrality rules as an "Internet takeover."

The proposal is already coming under fire from the GOP's Energy and Commerce members, who are expected to send Genachowski a letter on Wednesday urging him to back down, House aides said. 

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said that the proposal, described as around 80 pages, is a sign the FCC needs new leadership. 

In his speech, Genachowski described the proposal as the culmination of a long push toward net neutrality.

"After months of hard work at the FCC, in other parts of government, in the private sector, and in the public interest community, and after receiving more than 100,000 comments," he said in a Wednesday speech.

The chairman watered down his proposals compared to last Spring when he planned to accompany the new rules with a stricter legal framework for phone and cable companies.

“Informed by the staff’s additional legal analysis and the extensive comments on this issue over the past year, the proposal is grounded in a variety of provisions of the communications laws, but would not reclassify broadband,” Genachowski said in a statement provided to the Washington Post

Abandoning the reclassification effort that would have brought stricter regulations is a blow to consumer groups and to the Democratic commissioners at the FCC who have rallied behind that proposal. But some have nevertheless expressed openness to supporting lighter effort.

Public Knowledge, a group that promotes net-neutrality, urged Genachowski to continue with reclassification at a future meeting. 

But the group also praised Genachowski for his decision to move forward with "urgently needed" rules, even without the reclassification effort. 

Genachowski also got a supportive letter on Tuesday from Senate Democrats. 

Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and John Kerry (D-Mass.) urged him to move forward before the end of the year. 

"We are also well aware that it is always easier to criticize the policy-making process than it is to make good policy--and as a result you have taken incoming fire from all sides," the letter said. 

Genachowski will hold a vote on his plan at a Dec. 21 commission meeting after tweaking the proposal in the next few weeks. He needs to woo two of his fellow commissioners, the minimum needed to pass the rules.