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Originally published December 17, 2010 at 3:28 PM | Page modified December 19, 2010 at 4:01 PM

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Keep tolls off the Internet

The Federal Communications Commission meet Tuesday with focus on net neutrality, with a wrinkle. Chairman Julius Genachowski is expected to endorse open access, along with allowing fees based on usage — two mutually exclusive concepts.

THE Federal Communications Commission's slim agenda hints at the coming brawl. Tuesday's primary topic is a long-desired proposal from Chairman Julius Genachowski to protect consumer access to the Internet.

Be careful what one wishes for. Genachowski's rules of the road are expected to endorse pricing based on Internet use. Toll booths on the broadband highway.

This is not the vision of net neutrality sought by those who wanted to keep corporate interests from using fees to shape and deter network traffic. It is further still from regulatory oversight of broadband as a universal utility — telephone service — which hit legal and political potholes.

Asserting the right of consumers to access all the services and content of the Internet but limiting and controlling options with a fee schedule is a transparent manipulation of choice.

Access to online video content is a direct challenge to the business model of cable and TV companies, who are also the Internet providers. They view unlimited access to movies and old TV shows — competition in the marketplace — as taking audiences away from network and cable offerings powered by their advertisers.

Two Republicans on the five-member commission picked up an ally on Capitol Hill. Last week, Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson added an anti-net-neutrality amendment to a bill on military and veterans construction projects.

She would "prohibit the FCC from using any appropriated funds to adopt, implement or otherwise litigate any network neutrality based rules, protocols or standards."

Hutchinson's hands-off treatment of Internet gatekeepers is cynical. Even the regulatory veneer of open access to the Internet, with a fee schedule, is insulting.

The Internet thrived, and will continue to innovate and prosper, with open access.

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