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FCC produces working paper

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The spectre of US Internet cable access regulation and censorship looms. The Federal Communications Commission has produced a working paper "Internet over cable: defining the future in terms of the past" by staffer Barbara Esbin that notes that the FCC does not regulate Internet access through cable television, Internet telephony or video conferencing. Basic telecommunication services are heavily regulated whereas cable services providing Internet access escape the FCC regulation of tariffs,interconnection and unbundling requirements. The problem for the FCC is that the new and emerging technologies do not fit neatly into the FTC regulatory structure. No longer are services such as telephony and cable technologically distinct. "This renders application of existing regulatory categories difficult, if not impossible, for many forms of Internet-enabled communications," the report says. "In the future, it will become increasingly difficult to maintain that particular facilities and services are cable' as opposed to telecommunications'. " The FCC already regulates cable television programming, deciding at what time adult programming can start. It is but a short step for it to set uprules for Internet content providers-except that the 1996 Telecommunications Act requires the government to "promote continued development of the Internet . . . unfettered by federal or state regulation". If Internet access services by cable were treated as cable services,franchise fees could be imposed by cities in the US. Whether the boundaries between telephone, cable and Internet access will be subject to regulation will be a matter for Congress, although the FCC is seeking clarification as to whether cable services in the 1966 Act could be interpreted as to include cable-provided Internet services. Esbin suggests that rather than trying to squeeze the Internet and Internet-related services into familiar categories, the FCC might better endeavour to create a new regulatory category.®

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