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FTC chairman opposes congressional efforts to curb 'net neutrality'

[JURIST] The chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] on Monday voiced disapproval [speech transcript, PDF; press release] of congressional efforts to address "net neutrality," arguing that if current regulations do not prevent broadband providers from accepting money from content providers in exchange for preferential bandwidth treatment, or from interfering with the content of competitors, then the free market will resolve the issue. Speaking at the Progress and Freedom annual conference [agenda], FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras [official profile] also announced the formation of an Internet Access Task Force, charged with advising the FTC on Internet issues, especially net neutrality. Majoras emphasized that the FTC will not hesitate to confront alleged net neutrality violators under the FTC's mandate to regulate anticompetitive, deceptive, or unfair business practices under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act [text], the Sherman Antitrust Act [text], and the Clayton Act [text].

In May, the US House Judiciary Committee [official website] approved the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006 [HR 5417 text], which applies federal antitrust law to alleged breaches of "net neutrality." Several other net neutrality bills are also currently before Congress. In July, Google Vice President Vinton Cerf threatened to file antitrust complaints against Internet broadband providers [JURIST report] if Congress fails to pass effective net neutrality legislation.

Other federal regulatory bodies have asserted jurisdiction over the net neutrality issue. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said in May that the FCC is authorized under Title 1 of the Communications Act of 1934 [text] to regulate breaches of net neutrality [JURIST report], and said the FCC may draft agency rules to combat alleged violations. Legal precedent suggests that the FCC has this authority, as Justice Clarence Thomas, writing in 2004 for the majority in National Cable & Telecommunications Association vs. Brand X Internet Services [opinion text; Duke law case backgrounder], said that Internet service providers can be subjected to FCC-imposed "special regulatory duties" under Title 1. CNET News has more.

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