A key U.S. lawmaker said on Wednesday that he backs a Federal Communications Commission proposal to establish an open Internet rule and would consider legislative action if the industry challenged it in court.
The FCC is moving in exactly the right direction, said Rick Boucher, chairman of the House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet.
Boucher, a Virginia Democrat, spoke with reporters after an event that highlighted the successful deployment of high-speed Internet to a rural community in his district using airwaves vacated by broadcasters that are now using digital signals.
His comments came on the eve of a Thursday FCC meeting, where a full slate of three Democrats and two Republicans will decide whether to propose a so-called network neutrality rule. It would restrict network operators from favoring some content over others along landlines and wireless platforms.
Advocates of net neutrality such as Google Inc, Amazon.com Inc and public interest groups say Internet service providers such as AT&T Inc, Verizon Wireless and Comcast Corp must be barred from blocking or slowing traffic based on its content because some content could generate more revenue than other content.
But providers say the increasing volume of bandwidth-hogging services, like video sharing, requires active management of their networks.
Verizon Wireless is a joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc.
Boucher's comments come amid a flurry of lobbying from opponents of the FCC proposals, which are not likely to result in a final rule until the spring, after an extensive public comment period.
The big telecom companies for the most part have been unopposed to a rule that would apply to their wireline businesses but have been steadfastly opposed to any rule affecting their profitable and growing wireless business.
Verizon Communications Chief Executive Ivan Seidenberg said at a tech trade show in Chicago that the FCC proposal is extremely troubling and would risk halting progress in U.S. broadband development.
If we can't earn a return on the investment we make in broadband, our progress will be delayed, Seidenberg said.
With the threat of legal action looming, Boucher said he has been meeting with broadband providers, tech companies and public interest groups since March and said he hopes they can reach an agreement in the not too distant future.
Hopefully there will not be challenges, Boucher said. If there are, hopefully those rules will be upheld, but that leads to other possibilities as well.
It is my hope we will be in a position to legislate at the appropriate time with regard to network neutrality, he said.
He also said a comprehensive wireless modernization bill is necessary given all the developments in the wireless sector.
At the proper time, probably next year, I'll look forward to taking that up, he said.
(Additional reporting by Sinead Carew in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Gerald E. McCormick)