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Originally published Friday, December 3, 2010 at 2:35 PM

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Ryan Blethen / Times editorial columnist

FCC should act now to preserve network neutrality

The FCC must reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service. If the commission does not, net neutrality is dead.

Times editorial page editor

Hope is fading for network neutrality. That is unfortunate because sensible rules governing the Internet could be adopted but are falling victim to the politics of timidity.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski announced last week he wants the commission to vote on his proposed net-neutrality rules at its Dec. 21 meeting. This would be encouraging, but it appears the chairman's plan is net neutrality in name only.

Genachowski's proposal has not yet been released but, if it resembles the outline he gave in his speech, the consumer protections are minimal.

He should listen to his Democratic colleagues on the commission. Both Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn voiced concerns about the proposal. Genachowski should work with them to craft rules that keep the Internet open and not allow service providers to degrade content or used tiered-pricing schemes.

If Genachowski is serious about net neutrality, he must reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service. This would give the FCC the authority to do what it is charged with: ensuring the Internet remains open to anybody with access.

The Washington Post's Cecilia Kang reported on her Post Tech blog that Copps raised the reclassification issue at a speech Thursday night before Columbia University's school of journalism.

"These rules must be put on the most solid possible legal foundation and be quickly and effectively enforceable. If this requires reclassifying advanced telecommunications as a Title II telecommunications ... we should just do it and get it over with," Copps said.

Copps is not alone. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, are two of many members of Congress urging the FCC to reclassify broadband.

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, who sits on the Senate Commerce Committee with Dorgan, said in a statement that she has concerns about Genachowski's plan:

"We need strong net-neutrality rules to protect consumers and preserve the open Internet. Chairman Genachowski has not yet made public the draft proposal underlying his announcement ... but based on his remarks, I am concerned that it is not as bold as it should be. We need a bold plan."

Cantwell's opinion is important. The Commerce Committee oversees the FCC and Cantwell has been a strong proponent of net neutrality.

Genachowski should not be so timid. He has many supporters in Congress who have repeatedly said they will support efforts to implement strong net-neutrality rules. Instead, Genachowski insults his would-be champions by letting so much time pass then finally proposing a watered-down plan that really is not net neutrality.

There was much optimism the FCC would get serious about becoming a real regulatory agency when President Obama took office. Too bad the president appointed a chairman more concerned about trying to please everybody. Pleasing and being timid are not what effective regulatory oversight is about.

Genachowski must lean on his congressional allies and reclassify broadband. It is not too late.

We have made some changes to our lineup of syndicated columnists. Starting last week, we added Esther Cepeda, whom we had been running on a trial basis for the past month. New to our pages is 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Kathleen Parker. Look for her first column this week.

Gone from the lineup is Charles Krauthammer. I know some readers will be disappointed not to read Krauthammer in The Seattle Times, but no columnist is forever and Krauthammer had run in The Times since 1986.

Let me know what you think about the changes.

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

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