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Originally published Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 4:13 PM

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Remember, the FCC works for the public

President Obama and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genochowski should not need reminding the agency works for the public, not the communications companies and broadband services imagining toll booths on the information highway.

THE clear intent of the Federal Communications Commission to exclude consumers from discussions about how the Internet should be regulated was revealed by the troubling Google and Verizon communiqué.

Before Monday's announcement, the FCC had been having closed-door meetings with companies about future regulatory guidelines for broadband. As those talks stalled, Google and Verizon issued their own vision for segregated, higher-speed channels of service apart from public networks.

The FCC, under Chairman Julius Genochowski, has been engaged in a bureaucratic charade. No amount of public workshops and studies can mask the fact the FCC was privately soliciting direction from industry leaders. Consumers — ratepayers and taxpayers — were expediently pushed to the sidelines.

For all of the technical exotica of expanding broadband-service options, this is fundamentally a consumer issue about who pays for what. This goes to the heart of Net neutrality concerns about open access for content providers and customers.

These cozy dealings between regulators and the regulated resonate with Americans still reeling from the consequences of the failure of federal authorities and Congress to maintain any credible oversight of financial institutions.

Solemn pledges by online service providers and the nation's biggest communications companies to honor equal access to the Internet ring hollow as discussions turn toward creating new pay-to-play categories for the future.

The nation has been ill-served by lax public policy about media consolidation, and now there is an effort in the benign guise of service expansion to erect, as appropriately suspicious critics suspect, "tollbooths on the information superhighway."

All of the technology embodied by the Internet, and consumers' embrace of the opportunities, thrived because of open access to new ideas, devices and software.

The FCC must assert its regulatory prerogatives over broadband and seek clarifying authority where the rules need to be sorted out. The FCC is not an agent of the industries it oversees. President Obama and Chairman Genochowski need to remember whom they work for.

The customers will not forget.

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