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Technology Chief Reaffirms Net-Neutrality Support

By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 17, 2009; A09

The nation's chief technology officer on Friday reaffirmed the White House's support for rules that would prevent Internet providers from acting as gatekeepers over Web content, wading into an increasingly contentious debate over net-neutrality regulations.

In recent weeks, a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill has denounced the policy, saying it threatens to scare off investment in telecommunications networks.

But Aneesh Chopra, President Obama's chief technology officer, said the concerns are premature because no rules have been drafted. He said the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, has merely proposed starting the rule-making process.

"There aren't even any rules out yet for anyone to criticize. This is a process and [the FCC] is just at the beginning of that process," Chopra said in an interview.

Nevertheless, in an interview on C-SPAN's "The Communicators" show Friday, Chopra expressed support for the net-neutrality concept.

"At a 100,000-foot view, we are committed to the notion that there should be essentially a level playing field for entrepreneurs and big firms to ride our nation's infrastructure to compete with those applications that we think will deliver value," Chopra said.

Obama has made open-Internet policies a pillar of his technology agenda and immediately endorsed Genachowski's announcement last month for new rules. Genachowski has said new regulations would ensure that consumers get access to any legal content on the Web, regardless of whether it originates with network owners or a third-party entrepreneur.

Many network providers have complained that they need to manage their networks so that no single company hogs the bandwidth.

On Friday, 72 Democratic members of Congress outlined additional concerns. They sent a letter to Genachowski urging him to proceed cautiously, arguing that broadband networks have expanded through competition and private investment. New rules shouldn't come from early conclusions based on "slogans rather than substance," they wrote. The letter includes the signatures of several members of the Congressional Black Caucus and 31 Blue Dog Democrats, a group of moderate-to-conservative Democratic lawmakers who have voted together on issues such as health-care and financial reform.

"In light of the growth and innovation in new applications that the current regime has enabled, as compared to the limited evidence demonstrating tangible harm, we would urge you to avoid tentative conclusions which favor government regulation," the lawmakers, including Reps. Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.) and Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) wrote.

The letter follows a flurry of criticism from the Hill in recent days. The agency has received about a dozen letters from Republican and Democratic governors and 18 Republican senators protesting more Web regulation.

Genachowski's office declined to comment on the criticism.

"It's a pity that 72 members of the Blue Dog Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus are deserting one of the fundamental planks of President Obama's platform -- a free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet," Gigi Sohn, executive director of Public Knowledge, said in a statement. "The people who those members of Congress represent are the most at risk from the closed, controlling Internet that the phone and cable companies want. They are being betrayed."

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