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Tomorrow's a Big Day for Net Neutrality in the U.S.

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, December 20 2010

Is there a bit of irony in the fact that Federal Communications Commissioner Julius Genachowski is advocating for greater transparency in what broadband companies tell their customers about how they're shaping their Internet hook-up, but that there's little public clarity on the network neutrality proposal the FCC is planning to vote on during tomorrow's open commission meeting? Maybe. All we know for sure is that tomorrow may well be a landmark day in the history of the net neutrality debates. Unless Genechowski's neutrality proposal gets yanked from the docket, the five member commission will vote on, well, something, and that something will be the new working understanding for the enforcement of net neutrality in the United States.

The net neutrality debate has taken on even greater weigh in recent weeks with considerable public attention being paid to everything from Wikileaks to the Comcast/Level 3 dispute over Netflix traffic. That said, neutrality isn't everything. It's a specific approach to certain questions of how the Internet is meant to work in the United States, and what we do know about Genachowski's approach comes from a speech he delivered back at the start of this month. Boiled down, the Genachowski take on neutrality seems to adopt the stance on network discrimination that neutrality advocates have fought for by barring at the agency level "unreasonable discrimination in transmitting lawful network traffic." That said, Genachowski has backed an exemption for a distribution means he's deemed "evolving rapidly" and thus a poor choice for fixed rules at this point: mobile broadband."

There's a chance, though, that what Genachowski has done, after so many months of debate, is to push through a proposal that makes no one very happy -- at least, not anyone who has a vote on the Federal Communications Commission. Politico's Morning Tech reported this morning that the two Republican votes on the commission are strong "no" votes on the proposal. That's not surprising. But when it comes to the two other Democrats on the commission, Mignon Clyburn issued a general statement saying, "We are still debating the issues in the Order, and I expect to continue to do so over the weekend, as no part can be taken lightly." But Michael Copps is considered the big question. He's been a fierce advocate for neutrality, and there's a chance that he'll finally decide that what Genechowski has mixed up is simply too weak of a brew. "I cannot tell you at this point precisely what the final item will look like," said Copps, "nor do I know what my vote will be.” 

So stay tuned. The Federal Communications Commission's open meeting is slated to start tomorrow morning at 10:30 ET. And thanks to the miracle that is the Internet, you can watch the whole thing online at

Update: Looks like Genachowski has his votes, and that his net neutrality proposal will get the FCC's okay.