Page last updated at 17:19 GMT, Wednesday, 12 May 2010 18:19 UK

Ad campaign seeks to derail US net plan

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

Fibre optic cable (file image)
The US plans to connect its population

A $1.4million TV advertising blitz has been launched across the US in an attempt to derail efforts to increase regulation of broadband services.

The ads claim "Washington wants to spend billions to take over the internet" and urges the public to help stop the "Washington takeover".

The campaign is a response to new "net-neutrality" rules that require cable firms to treat all net traffic equally.

The rules are part of plans to bring high speed net access to every citizen.

"This is a naked power grab," Phil Kergen of Americans for Prosperity told BBC News.

He described the new rules as an "aggressive regulatory approach".

"The FCC wants to reduce the internet to an old-fashioned government-regulated utility," he said.

Some of the other groups involved included the National Taxpayers Union, Free State Foundation and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council.

Market failure

The regulation was introduced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) following a high-profile spat with cable firm Comcast.

A court ruled that the regulator did not have the power to sanction the firm for selectively slowing down the connections of subscribers who downloaded large files.

Fibre optic cable

Advocacy groups said that the ruling threatened net neutrality as well as putting plans to provide every American citizen with access to high speed internet in "legal limbo".

Last week the FCC said it would reclassify broadband services from an information service to a telecommunications service.

For cable companies and internet service providers this means moving from a light-touch regulatory system to a more hands on one.

Commission chairman Julius Genachowski said the reclassification is needed for it to pass formal net neutrality rules and to implement parts of its national broadband plan, released in March.

Meanwhile one lawmaker is seeking to strip the FCC of its power to regulate internet access services without evidence of a market failure.

"I see no reason for internet regulation," said Republican Representative Cliff Stearns who is also a senior member of the Communications, Technology and Internet subcommittee.

"If there is ever a cause for regulation, it is a decision to be made by Congress - not the FCC."

In October, Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, introduced bills to prohibit the FCC from creating formal net neutrality rules, after the agency launched a rule-making process to do so. Both bills have gone nowhere

'Misinformation'

As the advertising strategy was announced, advocacy group and net neutrality supporters Free Press hosted a day-long forum on media reform.

At the event, FCC member Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, hit out at "misinformation" efforts by groups opposed to the FCC's course of action.

"An unfortunate reality is that having an open forum with reasonable and honest debate in this sphere appears unlikely," said Ms Clyburn.

"Instead, the lobbying machine for some extremely powerful interests has already been churning out quote-worthy lines at a rapid rate. We are merely looking to preserve the authority that almost everyone assumed we had ... prior to the court's decision."

The voice-over internet telephone service Skype, with over 560million users, is a supporter of the FCC's attempts to shore up its power to oversee broadband services.

"We don't see this as about regulating the internet. It is just making sure that people who control the on-ramp to the internet provide fair and balanced access," Josh Silverman, Skype's chief executive officer told the BBC.

"The right answer is for Congress to mandate and give the FCC the appropriate authority. Providing open access to content is a fundamental principle of the internet," he said.



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