FCC To Vote Tuesday On 'Net Neutrality' Rules
(CNN) -- The Federal Communications Commission is set to vote Tuesday on a set of regulations designed to ensure that internet providers grant everyone equal access to the Web.
The "net neutrality" rules, proposed by the Obama administration, would be the government's biggest foray yet into one of the Web's fiercest debates.
In announcing the proposed rules earlier this month, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said they would require high-speed internet providers to treat all types of Web content equally.
The rules would, in effect, keep the companies that own the internet's real-world infrastructure from slowing down some types of websites or apps -- say, those belonging to a competitor -- or speeding up others from high-paying clients.
The commission's agenda says the vote will address "basic rules of the road to preserve the open internet as a platform for innovation, investment, competition and free expression."
If it passes, as it is expected to do, the plan will go before Congress for final approval. That isn't expected to happen until the new Congress, elected in November, takes office next year.
Internet-freedom advocates have called the rules a step in the right direction but say they don't go far enough.
For example, the proposal doesn't set the same set of rules for mobile communications as it does for Web-based ones. And it wouldn't let the government strictly regulate internet providers in the way some advocates would like.
In fact, the proposal is similar to one put forward earlier this year by Google and Verizon, two of the internet's biggest stakeholders.
Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat and one of Congress' most vocal net-neutrality advocates, calls the issue "the most important free-speech issue of our time." In a column Monday for the Huffington Post, Franken said some of the current proposal's language could actually weaken protections.
"[T]his Tuesday, when the FCC meets to discuss this badly flawed proposal, I'll be watching," he wrote. "If they approve it as is, I'll be outraged. And you should be, too."
Michael Copps, a Democrat and one of the commission's five members, said in a written statement that he won't block the plan after weeks of trying to make it tougher.
"The item we will vote on tomorrow is not the one I would have crafted," Copps said. "But I believe we have been able to make the current iteration better than what was originally circulated.
"If vigilantly and vigorously implemented by the commission -- and if upheld by the courts -- it could represent an important milestone in the ongoing struggle to safeguard the awesome opportunity-creating power of the open internet."
Technically, Copps said he will vote to concur, which means not endorsing all parts of the plan but letting it move forward and, theoretically, be tweaked later.
Copps' two fellow Democrats also are expected to concur, while its two Republicans likely will vote no.
One of those Republicans, Robert M. McDowell, criticized Genachowski's proposal Sunday in a Wall Street Journal column.
"Nothing is broken that needs fixing ... " he wrote. "Analysts and broadband companies of all sizes have told the FCC that new rules are likely to have the perverse effect of inhibiting capital investment, deterring innovation, raising operating costs and ultimately increasing consumer prices."
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