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Telco lobbyists don't mind some Net neutrality regs

AT&T and Verizon Communications lobbyists say they are fine with existing FCC open Internet principles becoming regulation, but they are opposed to proposed new rules.

CHICAGO-AT&T and Verizon Communications are among the most vocal opponents to Net neutrality regulation, but the phone companies' top lobbyists reiterated Wednesday here at the Supercomm 2009 trade show that they would be alright with some regulation, so long as it isn't too far reaching.

Jim Cicconi, chief lobbyist for AT&T

Jim Cicconi, senior executive vice president at AT&T, and Tom Tauke, senior vice president for Public Policy at Verizon Communications, said their companies support the Federal Communications Commission's existing open Internet principles. And they agreed that they would not take issue with these principles becoming official regulation.

But they each said they are not OK with a new principle that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski introduced last month that they feel could limit how operators manage their network.

"This is not about agreeing to the FCC's existing open Internet principles," Cicconi said during an interview. "We've already said that we do. It's about adding radical and far reaching new regulation."

The four existing open Internet principles can be summarized this way: network operators cannot prevent users from accessing lawful Internet content, applications, and services of their choice, nor can they prohibit users from attaching nonharmful devices to the network.

Genachowski has proposed adding two new principles. The fifth would prevent Internet access providers from discriminating against particular Internet content or applications, while allowing for reasonable network management. The sixth principle would ensure that Internet access providers are transparent about the network management practices they implement.

Cicconi and Tauke said their companies are concerned about the language that describes the fifth open network principle, which prohibits traffic discrimination. Cicconi and Tauke said they have heard that early drafts of the chairman's proposal, which will be presented and voted on at the FCC on Thursday, provide a broad definition for allowing "reasonable network management."

Tauke said that he has heard the proposal only makes room for very specific exceptions. For example, network operators would be allowed to block child pornography and illegal content, but they might not be able to prioritize certain types of traffic or even block traffic that is causing a denial-of-service attack on their networks.

"If you have to treat all bits the same, it's hard to protect the network from cyber attacks," he said. "When you're trying to make the network flow, you can't have lawyers looking over engineers' shoulders telling them what they can and can't do."

So far no one except the FCC commissioners and their staff know for sure the details of the proposal that will be presented at the FCC's open meeting Thursday.

But the chairman has stated publicly that he has no intention of making it impossible for carriers to manage their networks or restrict future business models.

Tom Tauke, top lobbyist for Verizon Communications

The five-person commission is controlled by Democrats, who all favor Net neutrality regulation, which means new rules almost certainly will be adopted. The chairman's proposal is not the final regulation, but it is a starting point for the new regulation. The public will have several months to publicly comment on the document. Still, Cicconi said it is important that the initial proposal is not too radical.

"We will know more tomorrow when the chairman makes his proposal public," he said. "We are hopeful the actual proposal is fair and moderate. But whatever the chairman says in that document will frame the debate going forward."

In addition to the fifth open Internet principle, AT&T and Verizon are also concerned about the chairman's insistence that the regulation be applied to wireless networks as well as wireline networks.

"We are also concerned with how these principles are applied to wireless networks," Tauke said in an interview. "The wireless business is very different from the wireline business, so it's difficult to apply regulations made for wireline networks to wireless networks."

But Genachowski has also said previously that he understands that Internet providers and wireless operators in particular need to manage their networks.

"We recognize there are differences between wired and wireline network technologies," he said during a press conference earlier this month at the CTIA wireless association trade show in San Diego. "They are different networks. And because they are different, I have said the rules that are adopted need to allow for reasonable network management. But we need to have clear rules of the road for everyone regardless of how they access the Internet."