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FCC’s Genachowski: We won’t address net neutrality this month

Despite enormous political pressure from congressional Democrats and the progressive netroots, the FCC isn’t making any moves to regulate the Internet. At least, not this month.

On Wednesday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski published a statement saying that his office would spend more time collecting public comment before making any decisions regarding net neutrality, the regulatory principle which progressives say will “save the Internet” and industry leaders say would chill investment and innovation.

And on Thursday, the worst fears of groups like Free Press and Public Knowledge were confirmed: Genachowsk’s list of items for the FCC’s next open meeting, to be held at the end of September, won’t include net neutrality. It’s now anyone’s guess as to when — or if — the FCC will move to implement a new policy for Internet service providers.

“Over the past months we have worked to preserve the freedom and openness of the Internet, based on the conviction that an open Internet is vital to innovation and private investment, competition, and free speech,” Genachowski wrote just one day before the FCC announced its September agenda.

Genachowski made a veiled reference to a recent joint proposal made by Google and Verizon, writing, “Recent events have highlighted questions on how open Internet rules should apply to ‘specialized’ services and to mobile broadband.”

The move by Google and Verizon suggests that although the FCC’s mediation process is providing cover for Democrats, many of whom have declined to make net neutrality a legislative issue, industry leaders are dissatisfied. While progressives worked themselves into a frothy rage over the idea of private actors working together to offer improved services and a loose regulatory framework, Genachowski decided to pay attention.

Free Press, the media reform group founded by Hugo Chavez-supporter Robert McChesney, read between the lines: “The FCC continues to kick the can down the road and prolong this process,” wrote Free Press research director S. Derek Turner on Wednesday. “It is time for the FCC to stop writing notices and start making clear rules of the road.”

One possible explanation for Genachowski’s decision is that he wants Congress to relieve some pressure. An April circuit court ruling made it clear that the FCC cannot regulate the Internet as it’s currently classified, and Internet service providers have made it clear that any move by the FCC to bring Internet services under the same regulatory umbrella as telephones would result in a prolonged legal battle that could derail Genachowski’s tenure as FCC chairman.

Congressional Democrats will face their own prolonged battle if the net neutrality debate moves to the legislative arena. Republican Sens. John Thune, of South Dakota, and Mike Johanns, of Nebraska, argued in June that Congress was more than capable of legislating a solution, which means Democrats like Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who recently called for the FCC to take the reigns on net neutrality, won’t have an easy time passing a bill that the progressive netroots would find acceptable.