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FTC to referee net neut 'Dystopian nightmare' feud

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To date, the FCC has refereed the ongoing feud between the net neuts and the anti-net neuts. But that may be changing.

Over the weekend, the new chair of the US Federal Trade Commission, the FTC, said the organization may start to enforce a kind of net neutrality alongside the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC.

"In a perfect marketplace, where you have more competitors, you wouldn't need the government necessarily to be terribly involved," Obama appointee Jon Leibowitz said Saturday during an appearance on the US cable news network C-SPAN. "We haven't seen discrimination yet based on content or applications that have contracted with the provider or that are the provider's content or applications.

"If we do see that, then it could raise anti-trust problems. And of course, we're a consumer protection agency, and we believe that consumers should have notice and consent on what they're getting."

Such would be a significant change in policy for the FTC, the organization charged with both consumer protection and anti-trust enforcement. In the summer 2007, while still under the thumb of a man called W, the commission issued a report that the US gov should take a hands-off approach to the net neutrality debate.

The report recommended that "policy makers proceed with caution in the evolving, dynamic industry of broadband Internet access, which generally is moving toward more - not less - competition. In the absence of significant market failure or demonstrated consumer harm, policy makers should be particularly hesitant to enact new regulation in this area."

It's no secret that Barack Obama is a net neut. But Leibowitz seems to recognize the ridiculous behavior on both sides of the debate. Prior to the release of the commission's 2007, he said, "Each side spun this story of like Dystopian nightmares if the other side's policy prescriptions were going to come true.

"It seems to me there could be - and I'm hopeful going forward on this issue - a toning down of the rhetoric."

Leibowitz said that it's "very, very important" that internet service providers tell consumers what speeds they're getting and "whether they're making any types of management decisions in terms of the network that affect consumers." He acknowledged that ISPs should be allowed to charge more for more bandwidth, but he also insisted that consumers should be properly notified beforehand. "You can't just surprise someone with a bill."

The new FTC chair was asked about the commission's Google investigation, but though he acknowledged the probe, he wouldn't say much more. "We can say that we are investigating Google for a violation of the interlocking directorates provision that prohibits competitors for sitting on each others boards," he said.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt admitted as much late last week. Schmidt sits on both the Google and Apple boards and said he has no intention of stepping down from his Apple post. ®

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