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Originally published Friday, October 1, 2010 at 2:43 PM

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Ryan Blethen / Times editorial columnist

The time for compromise has passed on net neutrality

The time for congressional compromise on net neutrality has passed, writes Seattle Times editorial page editor Ryan Blethen. It's time for Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski to get aggressive and ensure unfettered access to the Internet.

Times editorial page editor

The Federal Communications Commission needs to realize what it is: a regulatory agency. Once it grasps that simple concept it should do what regulatory agencies do: regulate.

The commission has played it safe since Julius Genachowski was installed as chairman by President Obama. Genachowski has had enough time on the job to know when to get aggressive. That time is now. Congress has given Genachowski an entree to stop the FCC's dithering on net neutrality.

The latest net-neutrality script is a tired one. Most Democrats support rules that don't allow an Internet service provider like AT&T from degrading content it doesn't approve of and creating faster service for those willing to pay. Republicans oppose net neutrality because the megacorporations that dominate the Internet have beat everything else back in the free market and are therefore entitled to control the Internet.

Enter stage left Rep. Harry Waxman, D-Calif. Waxman is a longtime supporter of net neutrality, which is important because he chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which deals with telecommunications and broadband.

In recent weeks, he feverishly worked to get a net-neutrality bill out of his committee. No Republicans supported the effort so Waxman dropped the bill. Too bad, but not a surprise. Republicans have no interest supporting the bill because of the upcoming election and the possibility they might be gaining seats in the House and Senate. Wouldn't want to tick off the telecom giants that feed them.

Democrats are also to blame for the bill's failure. Good broadband policy could already be in place if congressional Democrats and the president decided to push for it.

During the presidency of George W. Bush, the media-reform crowd and Democrats talked about how things would be different under a Democratic administration. So far, Obama and congressional Democrats have been a disappointment, with a few exceptions including our own Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Jay Inslee.

How is it that a Congress dominated by Democrats and a White House occupied by a president who was a strong supporter of net neutrality during the campaign and as senator is not getting something done?

Whatever the flimsy reason for inaction may be, it doesn't change the fact that the FCC has the authority to reclassify broadband into the common-carrier category. This is important, because if it does, the commission can implement net-neutrality rules.

Waxman says he might try again after the November election. He shouldn't bother. The result will be the same. Republicans like Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the ranking member of the Commerce Committee, will continue to obstruct any meaningful broadband legislation.

A number of senators and representatives are urging the FCC to act. In a statement, Inslee said, "Despite the efforts of Chairman Waxman, it is now clear that Congress will likely not find a bipartisan approach this year that will protect consumers and the online marketplace. The time for FCC action is now. We can't wait any longer."

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., have both joined Inslee's plea for action.

The time for compromise has passed. Genachowski needs to do something. If not, he can expect to be lumped in with the past two chairman — Kevin Martin and Michael Powell — as regulators more concerned about catering to those they regulate than the American public.

Ryan Blethen's column appears on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: rblethen@seattletimes.com

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