Former FCC head: Copps could 'blow things up' for Obama

"He'd have to take that view to his own party and his own president," said Powell, a Republican who represents an association for phone and cable companies, Broadband for America.

Current FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski proposed regulations for Internet lines last week, and he needs Copps's vote to pass them.

The proposal is a delicate compromise that looks attractive to industry in comparison to harsher rules. Genachowski hopes it is simultaneously hefty enough for Democrats to proclaim a victory on protecting consumers and safeguarding Internet openness.

Copps, a staunch net-neutrality supporter who Powell called a "principled guy," likely wants stronger protections than what Genachowski has proposed. Copps promised last week to work "tirelessly ... to ensure real network neutrality" is protected by FCC policies. He has until Dec. 21 to negotiate and suggest tweaks to the chairman's proposal.

But as Copps deals with the chairman's office, straying too far from the compromise proposal could cause phone and cable companies to flee, according to Bruce Mehlman, co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance.

Powell suggested that concessions from the chairman's office to Copps could show up in proceedings other than net neutrality.

"Somebody could cut a deal with Commissioner Copps somewhere else and it wouldn't even surface in this proceeding," he said.