Julius Teaser

This Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission will begin crafting its national broadband strategy—a collection of policies aimed, most broadly, at fulfilling the ambitious goal of ensuring that every American have access to broadband Internet service. In an open-to-the-public meeting, FCC members will lay the groundwork for what acting chairman Michael Copps called “the biggest responsibility given to the FCC since the Telecom Act of 1996”: a long-term planning session that will likely, in turn, set the stage for a contest between internet providers and federal regulators.

The scheme under discussion—a broadband strategy that will ultimately be decided under the leadership of (yet-to-be-Senate-confirmed) FCC chair Julius Genachowski, with a final decision not due until February 2010—the Journal notes,

will raise thorny issues about what sort of requirements, if any, should be imposed on Internet-service providers to share the networks they have built with government help. Phone and cable companies argue that such requirements would likely stifle investment and be counterproductive.

“If the government were to suddenly suggest it will get into the business of deciding how networks should be designed, that would be chilling,” said Walter McCormick, president of the U.S. Telecom Association, the phone industry’s trade group….

Internet-service providers want to control their systems so that big users don’t hog bandwidth and slow service for others. But consumers and companies that want to offer services such as online video don’t want those services blocked or hobbled.

Balancing the competing demands “is going to be a tricky public-policy issue that needs to get worked out,” said David Cohen, executive vice president of cable giant Comcast Corp.

For more on the tensions at play in the FCC discussions, see the “Barack Obama, Technology and the Internet” episode of “To The Point,” which offers a spirited debate about broadband regulation among Obama tech guru Blair Levin, Mediatech Capital Partners’s Porter Bibb, Public Knowledge’s Gigi Sohn, and former FCC economist Michael Katz.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.