FCC’s Comcast Order: Start of the new Net Neutrality Debate

We now have an official “starting date” for round two of the net neutrality debate: Aug. 1, when the details of the FCC’s order against Comcast should be made public. News reports Thursday said that FCC chairman Kevin Martin is expected to announce on that date some form of penalties and punishment for the cable operator’s now-infamous blocking actions of peer-to-peer traffic on its broadband networks; but instead of putting a close to the matter, the FCC order is widely expected to just be the start of a fresh round of net neutrality gymnastics, which likely won’t reach a conclusion until after the November elections and into 2009, when the FCC will likely have a new cast of commissioners.

Though Martin said Friday he wouldn’t seek any fines against Comcast, the devil will be in the details of the order, especially the specifics about how Martin interprets how Comcast might have violated the FCC’s 2005 Internet policy principles order. The most immediate question after the order is released is whether or not Comcast will file a lawsuit against the FCC, challenging the agency’s jurisdiction over cable operators; as our analyst friends at Stifel, Nicolaus said in a note today, such legal actions may not be the best move for Comcast, since if the company was victorious in having the order revoked, it could spur Congress into taking more direct net neutrality action, passing legislation giving the FCC clear authority over cable operators.

There are also questions about how the order might affect operators of wireless networks, and how a new President and new Congress will deal with the issue going forward. To quote the conclusion of the Stifel, Nicolaus report today, no doubt penned in part by our good friend Blair Levin:

We see the real significance in how the order and the subsequent court decision sets the stage for how the new Congress and the new FCC may wish to address the wider network neutrality issue.

Sounds like a perfect time for a Sidecut Report on net neutrality, giving you all the background info on the issue as well as in-depth interviews with major players on both sides of the debate, along with analysis on how the topic will affect businesses, entrepreneurs and investors in entities that will be affected by new communications legislation or regulation. If you’d like an email notification when our report is ready, drop me a line at kaps at sidecutreports.com and I will ping you personally.

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