The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Monday reiterated his support for strong net neutrality rules that would prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against certain types of content on their network, framing the contentious issue as an economic imperative.
"If we're going to lead the world in economic growth, investment, innovation and job creation in the 21st century, we need broadband that is fast, affordable and open," Julius Genachowski said at a broadband summit today at the University of Minnesota.
"Achieving these goals, including preserving Internet freedom, is essential for consumers, entrepreneurs, small businesses everywhere," he added.
"Internet users, not service providers, should be deciding what content and services they get when they go on the Internet."
But Genachowski did not tip his hand about how he plans to achieve that goal. The FCC's next move on the net neutrality front has been the subject of heated debate since April when a federal appeals court ruled that it did not have the authority to enforce an order punishing Comcast for blocking traffic on its network under the current legal designation of broadband service.
Genachowski proposed reclassifying broadband service to clarify the agency's authority, provoking vigorous opposition from the cable and telecom industries. Amid the political fallout, Genachowski's staff has tried to convene stakeholders on both sides of the issue to broker a compromise, but the commission recently announced that those talks had broken down as Google and Verizon, which had both been involved in the FCC negotiations, came forward with a separate proposal.
Genachowski, speaking today at a conference organized by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a strong supporter of net neutrality rules, made the case for a robust broadband infrastructure as an integral part of a modern, competitive economy.
His comments came the same day that Vice President Joe Biden gave an address at the White House touting innovation-driven sectors of the economy, including broadband, as crucial to emerging from the recession and safeguarding U.S. competitiveness.
"A year ago, two years ago, and still today, a lot of people aren't even really sure what broadband is. Well, of course it's high-speed Internet, and it is I believe as important to the U.S. in the 21st century as electricity was in the 20th century -- indispensable infrastructure that is and will reshape our economy and our lives," Genachwoski said.
"So broadband first is our 21st-century platform for economic opportunity," he added.
"There's no question that broadband is essential to the success of small businesses, opening up new markets where small businesses can sell their products, helping small businesses lower their costs through services that are available on the cloud."
Just last week, the two other Democratic commissioners at the FCC, Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn, appeared at a separate conference in Minnesota hosted by the media-reform group Free Press, where they both expressed support for the FCC strengthening its authority to enforce nondiscrimination rules on wired and wireless networks.
The FCC has not indicated if it plans to bring the reclassification item to a vote at its next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 23.