* Analysts say Copps, Clyburn to support Web rules
* Say draft regulations unlikely to be strengthened
* FCC to vote on net neutrality rules on Dec. 21
(Adds analysts' comments)
By Jasmin Melvin
WASHINGTON, Dec 15 Contentious Internet traffic
rules facing a vote next week are likely to be adopted without
radically veering from a proposal unveiled earlier in the
month, telecommunications policy analysts said on Wednesday.
The Federal Communications Commission will vote on Dec. 21
on whether to adopt regulations that ban the blocking of lawful
traffic but allow Internet service providers to ration Web
traffic on their networks.
The proposal laid out two weeks ago by FCC Chairman Julius
Genachowski was met with concern from the other members of the
FCC, putting in question the likelihood of winning over a
majority of the five-member FCC.
The two Republican commissioners have objected to FCC
action on Internet rules, saying the Internet is best able to
thrive in the absence of regulation. And Genachowski's two
fellow Democrats on the panel could withhold support from any
measure they view as too weak.
But analysts said commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael
Copps, the Democrats on the panel, are more likely to consider
it in the majority's interest to move ahead with so-called net
"There aren't really any better options for Copps and
Clyburn than to support the chairman, despite their preference
for tougher rules," said Paul Gallant, an analyst with MF
"After the November elections, the chairman's room to
maneuver on net neutrality got a lot narrower," he added.
Net neutrality rules would determine whether high-speed
Internet providers should be allowed to block or slow
information or charge websites for a "fast lane" to reach users
Genachowski's proposal is more flexible for wireless
broadband, acknowledging that wireless is at an earlier stage
of development than terrestrial Internet service.
High-speed and mobile Internet providers like Comcast Corp
(CMCSA.O), Verizon Communications (VZ.N) and AT&T Inc (T.N) are
likely to oppose any regulations that seek to go beyond
Genachowski's initial proposal.
"Our sense is an order likely will be approved, with some
modifications, but not radical changes, to the draft, given the
tightrope the FCC leadership appears to be walking," Stifel
Nicolaus analysts said in a research note.
Stifel Nicolaus is particularly plugged in to FCC
developments, with analyst Rebecca Arbogast having previously
been a division chief at the agency.
A possible tweak of Genachowski's initial proposal could
include clearer language against paid prioritization, Stifel
Nicolaus analysts said, but strengthening the rules much
further could prompt legal challenges from companies.
"Party loyalty will trump some of the policy differences,"
Medley Global Advisors analyst Jeffrey Silva said of Copps and
Clyburn's potential reasons not to defect from the chairman.
Strengthening rules for wireless carriers beyond
anti-blocking and transparency provisions, which Clyburn has
supported, would probably be a deal-breaker for industry
support of the regulations, Silva said.
"There's not a lot of room to tinker with the compromise
that's been struck without threatening the compromise," Silva
Even if the rules are adopted, lawmakers are likely to
challenge the rules, as Republicans have been vocal that they
oppose any FCC action geared at governing the Internet.
(Reporting by Jasmin Melvin, editing by Dave Zimmerman and