Fed trade commision to scrutinize net neutrality

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) hasformed an “Internet Access Task Force” to examine whether netneutrality advocates’ fears of large broadband providers blockingor slowing Web content from competitors are justified, the agency’schairwoman said.

Chairwoman Deborah Platt Majoras on Monday also called onlawmakers to be cautious about passing a net neutrality law, whichcould prohibit broadband providers such as AT&T Inc. andComcast Corp. from giving their own Internet content top priority,or from charging Web sites additional fees for faster service.

Net neutrality advocates are sincere in their concerns, Majorassaid during a speech at the Progress and FreedomFoundation‘s (PFF’s) Aspen Summit in Colorado. “I just questionthe starting assumption that government regulation, rather than themarket itself under existing laws, will provide the best solutionto a problem,” she said.

New legal mandates often have “unintended consequences,” shesaid. But the FTC will investigate problems with discriminatorypractices from broadband providers, Majoras added.

“While I am sounding cautionary notes about new legislation, letme make clear that if broadband providers engage in anticompetitiveconduct, we will not hesitate to act using our existing authority,”she said. “But I have to say, thus far, proponents of netneutrality regulation have not come to us to explain where themarket is failing or what anticompetitive conduct we shouldchallenge.”

Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group, welcomed the FTC’sexamination of net neutrality.

“We certainly look forward to the analysis of an agency thatexists to protect competition of the broadband market in which 98percent of customers receive their service from either thetelephone company or the cable company, if they have that choice atall,” Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn said in an e-mail.”There are no market forces at work here, much as Chairman Majoraswishes there to be.”

The FTC will host a conference, from Nov. 6 to 8, focusing onprotecting consumers in an era of converging technologies, Majorasalso announced. The conference, named “Protecting Consumers in theNext Tech-Ade,” will focus on emerging trends, applications,products, services and tech issues in the next decade, shesaid.

The preliminary agenda is at: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/workshops/techade/tech-ade_agenda_preliminary.pdf.

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