Lobbyists, public interest groups square off over broadband stimulus rules

Policy wonks and telecom lobbyists are squaring off in a battle royal over which strings will be attached to broadband stimulus money. The fights aren't seen as a one-time battle, as the precedents set for USDA and NTIA funds are expected to be embraced for larger broadband spending of tens to hundreds of billions of dollars by Congress in the future.

Lining up at a National Telecommunications and Information Administration hearing on Monday, phone companies are telling officials that attaching conditions to $4.7 billion in broadband grant money will make such funds less enticing. 

Public interest groups want new networks to be open and non-discriminatory. While Congress clearly indicated that the current money needs to go to open and interconnected networks, Free Press wants a "new high-water mark" for consumer protection on the Internet. 

Telecom industry groups prefer a more laisse faire approach, arguing against hardcore rules to force companies to share data with regulators and to rent out lines at market rates.  Instead, they would prefer something akin to former FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell's four freedoms outlined in 2004 - general guidelines for consumers to have access to their choice of legal content, to run the applications of their choice, the ability to connect any device they have to the broadband connection in their homes, and meaningful information regarding their service plans.

Former Obama transition team member Kevin Werbach argued that carriers have to be forced to turn over detailed information about their networks for enforcement and research needs. Such information is necessary to assess what is reasonable and nondiscriminatory when it comes to open access and increasing broadband capacity.

For more:
- Wired's latest take on the grand broadband fight.  Post.

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