Net neutrality foes to label policy a 'job killer'

Broadband providers will send their chief executives to Capitol Hill next week to argue that net-neutrality rules are not necessary and could hurt job creation, trade associations announced Thursday.

The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) will fly in the leaders of more than 15 companies to meet with House Energy & Commerce leaders, including Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.), and FCC commissioners. The CEOs will come from companies such as AltaCom, Tellabs and Alcatel-Lucent, among others, according to Danielle Coffey, vice president of government affairs at TIA.

It has been unclear how vocally companies would express their opposition to net-neutrality. The industry's leaders are working toward a legislative proposal they hope will fend off tougher rules from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

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Coffey and officials from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers made it clear that aggressive messaging remains a key part of the strategy. Companies will try to get the word out through their trade associations that, in their eyes, net-neutrality rules are a job killer.

The trade association officials said it's a critical period to get that message across as the FCC delays its net-neutrality rule-making process to seek additional data. 

"This is really, really important to our industry, especially in these economic times," Coffey said.

Their messaging efforts will include lobbying Capitol Hill, filing comments with the FCC, reaching out to the press and galvanizing member organizations.

When the FCC said it would delay its final decision on net-neutrality rules in order to collect more data, companies praised the choice and promised to work cooperatively with the government. Meanwhile, Capitol Hill's most ardent net-neutrality supporters called on Internet providers and the public activism community to nix any interim hysterics.

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"Rather than retreat to our predictable corners, this should be a time when everyone takes a deep breath and continues to engage in a constructive process," Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryMellman: Looking to Iowa The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - A crucial week on impeachment Biden rallies with John Kerry in early primary states MORE (D-Mass.) said after the announcement.

With providers planning to keep the pressure on — AT&T, for instance, compared the FCC to Charlie Brown and mocked net-neutrality supporters in a blog post Thursday — public activists said they will do the same. 

"I expect it will be as contentious as ever," said Joel Kelsey, political adviser to Free Press, noting net-neutrality supporters and broadband providers have devoted themselves to this issue for years.

Josh Silver, president of Free Press, said the group will continue to raise awareness on its views. "We’ll be working to alert the public this issue is crucial to every Internet user, each of whom will be left unprotected online unless the FCC acts,” he said.

Still, companies will be hesitant to alienate the FCC as the "nuclear option" — placing broadband providers under telephone rules — remains on the table. That could push more of their messaging into outside groups such as these trade associations.

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Save a few blog posts and a public address from Verizon's top policy executive Tom Tauke last month, Google and Verizon have both largely kept silent on net neutrality since unleashing a policy proposal (and a gigantic wave of criticism) last month. Some sources said their proposal has hindered the FCC's efforts.

Paul Glenchur, an analyst with Potomac Research Group, said the FCC's decision to collect more information could introduce some calm into the debate. The FCC, in recent weeks, "has offered a more constructive tone on the substantive issues embedded in the net-neutrality debate," he said. 

"This should temper the industry rhetoric and encourage more active engagement on the policy details over the next few weeks at least," he said.

Harold Feld, legal director at Public Knowledge, also saw a potential for nuance to gain ground during the delay.

The FCC's public notice "is narrowly tailored," he said, "so it is likely to draw somewhat more substantive responses than the generic 'do something/do nothing' that takes up the bulk of the responses in the docket."