Ex-Justice Dept. official and net neutrality advocate to head watchdog Public Knowledge

Post tech reporter Hayley Tsukayama explains the idea of "net neutrality," and why its future could affect every Internet user. (Davin Coburn/The Washington Post)

Public Knowledge on Thursday named Gene Kimmelman, a former Justice Department antitrust official, as president of the consumer advocacy group that has been a leading proponent of Internet regulations known as net neutrality.

A longtime telecommunications policy insider in Congress, public interest group Consumers Union and at the Justice Department, Kimmelman helped shape aspects of decades-old telecom laws and worked to defeat AT&T’s proposed bid for T-Mobile two years ago.

He has been an advocate of net neutrality, unbundling cable television packages for consumers, and promoting new Internet technologies, such as video service Aereo, that could upset the traditional broadcast industry.

“Policy conversations in the world of copyright, Internet policy, patent reform, and telecommunications are at an all time high,” the Washington-based group wrote in its news release. “As Public Knowledge goes into 2014 with a new president, it will continue its commitment to its fundamental policy issues.”

Kimmelman’s hiring comes days after a federal appeals court struck down Federal Communications Commission rules that require broadband providers to give equal treatment to all Internet content. The court ruling could pave the way for companies such as Verizon Communications to give faster download speeds to the highest corporate bidder.

In his new job, Kimmelman will lobby former Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn, who is a special counsel in the office of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Public Knowledge has been a fierce critic of consolidation in the telecom industry, with consumers often given only one or two choices of broadband providers. The organization is also seen as often siding with Web giants such as Google, which have lobbied the FCC to ensure their Web sites aren’t blocked or slowed down by telecom firms.

“Gene Kimmelman’s selection as president and CEO of Public Knowledge ought to reignite the flame of every reformer’s commitment to the public interest,” said Public Knowledge board member and former Democratic FCC commissioner Michael Copps. “Whatever Gene does, he does with incredible intelligence, wonderful good judgment, and experience that few can match.”

Cecilia Kang is a senior technology correspondent for The Washington Post.

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