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FCC official says agency can regulate 'net neutrality' under current law

[JURIST] US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] Commissioner Michael Copps [official profile] has said the FCC is authorized under Title 1 of the Communications Act of 1934 [text] to create agency rules to combat breaches of "net neutrality." Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Copps suggested that the FCC would be protecting the public interest by writing and enforcing clear agency rules designed to prevent broadband service providers from accepting money from content providers in exchange for preferential bandwidth treatment, or from interfering with the content of competitors. In contrast to the approach advocated by Copps, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin in August 2005 succeeded in passing a set of broad net neutrality principles for service providers to abide by, favoring a more deregulatory approach than Copps.

Legal precedent suggests that the FCC may have the authority to draft strict net neutrality regulations. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing in 2004 for the majority in National Cable & Telecommunications Association vs. Brand X Internet Services [opinion text; Duke law case backgrounder], said that Internet service providers can be subjected to FCC-imposed "special regulatory duties" under Title 1.

The House Judiciary Committee is currently marking up the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006 [PDF text], sponsored by committee chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), that would apply federal antitrust law to alleged neutrality violations. A sister bill, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act [PDF text] is currently in the Senate Commerce Committee. That proposal, sponsored by Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Daniel Inouye (D-HI), would amend the Communication Act of 1934 to obligate internet service providers to not "block, interfere with, discriminate against, impair or degrade" access to any internet content, or from bargaining with content providers to provide faster service. Multichannel News has more.

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