Senate Republicans suspend opposition to FCC net neutrality regulation

As first reported in the Washington Post this afternoon, and as has been independently verified by two other Washington news sources, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R - Texas) has agreed to withdraw her amendment to an Interior Dept. spending bill that would have cut off funding to any Federal Communications Commission effort to regulate "net neutrality." This as aides to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, as reported by Congressional Quarterly, approached Sen. Hutchison seeking her withdrawal, at least until the Chairman can put forth a complete proposal.

On Monday, Chairman Genachowski made a public policy speech outlining a framework for new FCC regulations that would prohibit service providers from disabling certain Internet services on behalf of customers, as well as more transparently specify for customers what allowed measures they are taking to regulate traffic on their networks. The implication of these "Fifth" and "Sixth Principles," as they're being called, is that the FCC would in turn prohibit ISPs from being able to provide better bandwidth to certain classes of content providers willing to pay a premium.

That latter provision has long been part of proposals by Sen. Hutchison and others in Congress to create state- and/or federal-level broadband franchising operations, when they believe would simplify carriers' ability to build out broadband services in outlying and rural areas. Permitting ISPs to charge premiums has been offered by Senate Republicans as an incentive for ISPs to seek state- or federal-level franchises to carriers, since carriers would still have to pay local-level franchise taxes -- or, at least, pay into a fund that would in turn compensate municipalities for the taxes they would have received through municipal licenses.

Hutchison's next move may also have been influenced by Chairman Genachowski's appearance earlier today at a luncheon of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. There, accompanied by newly appointed Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, he promised the same broadband plan that would include new net neutrality initiatives would also create incentives for businesses to expand broadband to low-income areas -- one of Hutchison's hot-button issues.

There, Comm. Clyburn formally received the Joint Center's Broadband Imperatives report, a set of recommendations for the FCC that could play into Genachowski's final policy proposal. Many African-American policy organizations contributed to the report (Clyburn is herself African-American); and her father is no less than House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D - S.C.). Assuming Hutchison's amendment would have passed the Senate, the Interior Dept. bill would then have faced opposition in the House.

Last month, Sen. Hutchison announced her candidacy in the 2010 Texas governor's race.

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