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Net Neutrality Fans Press for Gains Under Obama

With a new administration waiting in the wings, Net neutrality advocates believe they have turned a corner in their fight for an open Internet.

The Open Internet Coalition (OIC), an umbrella group representing trade associations, nonprofits and technology companies, is calling on President-elect Obama's transition team to take several steps to ensure that the principles of unfettered Internet access permeate all levels of the federal government.

Since winning the election, the president-elect has given few new hints about how he plans to proceed in tech policy. That hasn't stopped observers from looking to his stance during the campaign for insight into how large a role establishing Net neutrality rules might have in his plans.

Obama has been widely credited for his use of the Internet throughout the campaign to connect with voters and raise funds. He has also signaled his commitment to make tech a priority with a lengthy policy agenda -- with Net neutrality the first item on that agenda.

"It's an exciting time for us," Markham Erickson, OIC's executive director, told reporters during a conference call yesterday. "We have a president who ran on an open-Internet platform."

Additionally, while on the campaign trail, Obama stopped in at Google's headquarters and declared that he would take a backseat to no one on upholding the principle that Internet service providers should be prohibited from blocking or degrading certain types of traffic on their networks.

But as happy as the OIC members are with Obama's stance on Net neutrality, they're not letting up yet.

"Our basic philosophy today is that the innovation platform put forward by the Obama-Biden campaign was spot-on," said Art Brodsky, communications director for the digital-rights advocacy group Public Knowledge. "Net neutrality is certainly one key part of the platform. But it's only one part."

Eyes on appointments

In a letter (PDF) to the co-chairs of the Obama transition team, the OIC outlined a four-pronged approach for inculcating its principles into the new government.

Obama will have the opportunity to appoint a new chairman and likely a new commissioner the Federal Communications Commission, assuming the outgoing FCC chairman, Kevin Martin, steps down. With two of the five commissioners already on record as supporting Net neutrality, the OIC called on Obama to tilt the balance decisively in favor of an open-network regulatory framework.

At the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department, the OIC is looking for Obama to appoint antitrust regulators who will consider open-Internet principles as they make decisions that will impact competition. The belief that there needs to be more competition among broadband providers is a core principle of many OIC members.

[cob:Special_Report]Open Internet access doesn't end at the United States' shores, however. The third point of the OIC letter asks the Obama ensure that the U.S. trade representative and the first-ever government CTO work to export open-Internet principles to the country's trade partners.

"Filtering and censorship by other governments is a trade barrier that we need to be vigilant about," said Cathy Sloan, vice president of government relations for the Computer and Communications Industry Association.

"Investors have to be assured that there won't be gatekeepers in the network that block or degrade their connection with users."

Finally, the OIC called for the new administration to work with Congress to enact legislation to codify Net neutrality. Two prominent senators have already signaled their intention to revive the fight for Net neutrality legislation, reintroducing a bill they were unable to bring out of committee in the current session.