A plan to give wireless networks more flexibility than their landline counterparts in proposed Internet rules is being questioned by Federal Communications Commission member Mignon Clyburn.
In remarks prepared for a conference on Thursday, Clyburn said it was essential that wireless networks grow in an open way just as our wired ones have.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski last week laid out what he called rules of the road for preserving an open Internet for consumers while giving broadband providers flexibility to manage their networks.
His proposal would ban the blocking of lawful traffic while allowing Internet providers to manage network congestion and charge consumers based on Internet usage.
Genachowski said the rules should be more flexible for wireless broadband, reflecting that wireless is at an earlier stage of development than terrestrial Internet service.
But Clyburn told a telecommunications conference that she had concerns about the wireless aspects of the measure, worried that two kinds of Internet worlds could be created by giving concessions to wireless carriers.
Any toughening of the approach to wireless Internet could attract opposition from carriers like Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc.
It is also unclear whether Genachowski's approach will be sufficient to win over a majority of the five-member FCC at its December 21 meeting.
The two Republican commissioners have opposed the rules, saying the Internet is best able to thrive in the absence of regulation. And Genachowski's two fellow Democrats on the panel could withhold support from any measure they view as too weak.
Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on communications, technology and the Internet, urged Clyburn and Michael Copps, both Democrats, to support the chairman's open Internet rules.
Kerry said in a letter on Thursday that it would be shortsighted to vote against the good in favor of the perfect.
Some analysts have said usage-based pricing could benefit landline Internet providers like Comcast Corp and Time Warner Cable Inc, with them charging more for data-intensive activities like the downloading of movies.
Clyburn said concluding the open Internet proceeding was on her Christmas wish list.
I, like many of you, am weary of the stand-offs, pontificating, greed wars, and tough guy posturing, she said at the Practising Law Institute's annual telecommunications policy conference.
Companies and public interest groups have until December 14 to lobby the commissioners before the FCC's sunshine rule kicks in, prohibiting stakeholders from meeting with commissioners in the week before a scheduled meeting.
Clyburn said supporting progress and innovation was not mutually exclusive of protecting consumers, pointing to the agency's 2005 policy statement on consumers' right to access lawful Internet content, services and devices.
The predictions of doom and gloom did not come to pass. In fact, what did occur was more innovation and investment, she said.
(Reporting by Jasmin Melvin; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)