FCC breakdown in the toll lane? (Updated)

Net Neutrality The Washington telecom circuit is buzzing with anticipation ahead of tomorrow’s FCC open hearing where the commission is scheduled to vote on a chairman Julius Genachowski’s proposal to adopt formal regulations on net neutrality.  Genachowski released a “framework” for the proposal earlier this month that included permitting “usage-based” (i.e. tiered) pricing for wireline broadband access as well as tacit approval of “managed services” over last-mile broadband networks including paid prioritization of bits. The latter could be a boon to content owners and distributors by enabling them to assure end-to-end quality of service for video streams even as total internet traffic grows.

Genachowski’s framework has met with significant opposition, both from opponents of FCC action, who argue the proposal goes too far, and from supporters of net neutrality regulation, who say it doesn’t go far enough. Of particular concern to net neutrality supporters, including among allies on the commission, is Genachowski’s apparent acquiescence in permitting paid “toll lanes” for certain types of traffic.

Negotiations among the commissioners themselves over the details of the proposal have continued, however, as Genachowski searches for enough votes to adopt the rules. Those negotiations have largely focused on the other two Democratic members of the commission, Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn, whose votes represent Genachowski’s only realistic chance to get a majority.

According to a report on the talks by National Journal on Monday, Genachowski now “appears willing to limit the creation of toll lanes on the Internet for companies willing to pay for faster transmissions.” Instead, the Journal reports, “the agency might specify scenarios under which such lanes would be barred because of concern about harm to consumers or competition.”

That would be a potential setback for online video distributors, for whom paid prioritization is likely to be critical. Many already spend millions with CDNs to try to shorten the distance internet video streams must travel to reach viewers and the ability to negotiate prioritization deals directly with network operators would give video distributors greater leverage to control their delivery costs.

More after the open meeting Tuesday.

LATE MONDAY UPDATE: It appears Genachowski now has the votes to adopt net neutrality rules at Tuesday’s FCC open meeting.