November 28, 2012
Top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are holding a briefing Wednesday to discuss Verizon's "troubling" legal challenge to the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules.
The Wednesday afternoon forum for lawmakers and aides "will examine a troubling First Amendment argument being advanced as part of a case filed by Verizon to overturn the Open Internet Order adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2010," according to a "dear colleague" letter from Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman, Anna Eshoo and Doris Matsui of California, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania.
Former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt will speak at the briefing. Hundt joined a friend-of-the-court brief to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals opposing Verizon's challenge. Verizon is challenging the FCC order at the appeals court. The court is expected to decide the case next year. "Despite widespread support of the FCC's Open Internet Order, Verizon is arguing before the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that broadband providers have a right to decide what they transmit online and that those business decisions are tantamount to speech deserving First Amendment protection," the Democrats wrote in their letter.
Verizon's legal argument hinges on free speech, but the company is also concerned that the rules indicate that the FCC might try to regulate the Internet in other ways. Verizon and other communications companies argue that government should keep its hands off the Web as much as possible. Waxman led an effort in 2009 to advance a bill that would give the FCC more explicit authority to regulate net neutrality. But the bill died, and the FCC moved ahead on its own. "This briefing will highlight the startling constitutional arguments being made in the D.C. Circuit and how the role of Congress in enacting communications policy could be radically undermined," Waxman and the other lawmakers wrote in the letter. Politico
Chief Executive Officer Larry Page met with U.S. Federal Trade Commission officials today in Washington as the agency moves to wrap up its 19-month investigation of the company's business practices, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
Google is seeking to persuade the FTC it hasn't broken antitrust laws and that any final agreement with the agency shouldn't be bound by a consent decree, according to the person and two others, who declined to be identified because the negotiations aren't public. Google has been engaged in settlement talks with the FTC for about a week, including an effort to define whether there's a market where Google has a monopoly, one of the people said. The Mountain View, California-based company, operator of the world's most popular search engine, is concerned that entering a formal settlement agreement with the agency may hurt its business prospects, the people said. "We continue to work cooperatively with the Federal Trade Commission and are happy to answer any questions they may have," Adam Kovacevich, a Google spokesman, said in an e-mail. He declined to comment on whether Page met with the FTC or the existence of any settlement talks. Peter Kaplan, a spokesman for the FTC, declined to comment.
Also today, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt was spotted on Capitol Hill with the head of the company's Washington office, the former New York Republican Congresswoman Susan Molinari. Kovacevich declined to comment on Schmidt's schedule or whereabouts. FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz is pressing Google to resolve the agency's concerns about its dominance of Internet search or be prepared to face a lawsuit, two people familiar with the matter said Nov. 13. The agency has told Google it won't accept a resolution short of a consent decree, one of those people said at the time.
The talks since Nov. 13 aren't focused on the most serious antitrust allegations made by the company's rivals -- that Google is skewing search results to favor its own services, two of the people said. Issues that have been under discussion include Google's exclusive agreements to provide search services to online publishers and alleged misuse of patents to try to block rivals' smartphones from coming to market. The FTC also is treating seriously complaints that Google used customer reviews from other websites without permission. Google also is in discussions with European Union officials to resolve their antitrust concerns. Those include Google ranking its services higher than rivals' offerings in search results; copying competitors' Web content and making agreements with websites and developers that stifle competition in the advertising industry. EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said yesterday that he will meet with Leibowitz next week, without elaborating further. Bloomberg
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