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FCC engages in closed door meetings over net neutrality reform

by on22 June 2010


Public scrutiny, North Korea style

The Federal Communications Commission has recently gotten itself into a potential messy situation with public media activist groups and pro Net Neutrality campaigners over the issue of transparent reform. A few hours ago, U.S. regulators and commissioners held private talks behind closed doors with phone and cable companies about a compromise that would give government statutory jurisdiction over Internet infrastructure without adopting controversial new rules that the telco providers oppose.

Participants in the talk include the infamous ISP oligopoly in the United States - Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, Charter, AT&T and Verizon - as well as Google, eBay and its subsidiary Skype in a bid to reach compromise on the FCC's proposed "third way" to regulate the content and infrastructure of the Internet. But the range of content and applications companies who feel to be a significant part of the overarching debate are not necessarily limited to these three Silicon Valley giants. The Open Internet Coalition and Free Press also stand as major vocal contributors to the discussion and have fiercely battled a long string of misinformation campaigns on Net Neutrality over the past couple years, including intense lobbying efforts from phone and cable companies and their Astroturf groups.

"It is stunning that the FCC would convene meetings between industry giants to allow them determine how the agency should best protect the public interest," declared Free Press. "The Obama administration promised a new era of transparency, and to 'take a backseat to no one' on 'Net neutrality, but these meetings seem to indicate that this FCC has no problem brokering backroom deals without any public input or scrutiny."

For many avid supporters of Net Neutrality and media reform, isn't hard to anticipate the purposes of the behind-closed-doors meeting. Analysts suggest that the telcos are trying to persuade the agency that its new hybrid legislative framework proposal is too novel of an idea for practical purposes and has never been tested in a real-world trial. Corporate technology blog The Hill recently reported that stakeholders will debate broadband reform this Friday, June 25, at the first in a series of talks on how to overhaul communications policy framework. However, the big question to consider is whether or not public consumer groups count as "stakeholders," and the specific names of the parties involved.

"This secretive process is especially unseemly for what is supposed to have been the most transparent FCC in history," the Media Access Project's Andrew Schwartzman commented. Nevertheless, if this is a transparent government, we would truly hate to see what an opaque one would entail.

Last modified on 22 June 2010
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