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FCC chairman sounds off on Net Neutrality and National Franchises

Kevin Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, sat down with Matthew Flanigan, president of the Telecommunications Industry Association on Monday at the GlobalComm tradeshow in Chicago to discuss several issues currently being debated on Capital Hill, including Network Neutrality and a national video franchise law.

Net Neutrality, or the concept that all traffic on the Internet should be able to traverse the network freely without carriers giving special priority to certain traffic, has been a hot topic for several months. During the question-and-answer session, the FCC chairman said that enacting new laws protecting Net neutrality would be premature. He said that the commission has already adopted a set of principles, which he feels are sufficient to address the issue.

"Consumers need to be able to access content on the Internet unimpeded," he said. "But at the same time, we understand network operators may offer differentiated tiers and differentiated speeds."

He added that the commission hasn't seen any widespread abuse that would justify making new laws.

Martin also talked about changes to the video franchise rules to allow telephone companies to get national franchises instead of negotiating with every local government across the U.S.

While Martin said the commission would support any new laws passed by Congress, he also said that the FCC is investigating whether it needs to add its own rules to current laws, which prohibit local municipalities from unreasonably denying franchise applications. So far, the commission has found instances where some governments have sat on franchise applications or put onerous conditions on new entrants, he said.

While he stopped short of supporting a new national franchise law, Martin said anything the commission or the government could do to increase competition for TV service would be welcomed.

He noted that while other communications services, such as broadband, cellular and long distance phone services, have dropped in price over the past 10 years, cable rates have actually increased 80 percent. But in areas where an over-builder was present to offer a similar wireline cable service, prices and choice benefited consumers, he said