WASHINGTON Communications regulators are holding a series of closed-door meetings with phone, cable and Internet lobbyists in an effort to hammer out a deal over how broadband should be regulated, a senior official said on Monday.
Representatives from broadband providers including AT&T Inc, Verizon Communications Inc and Internet companies met on Monday with Edward Lazarus, chief of staff for Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski.
A similar meeting was also held Friday, one day after the FCC voted to collect public comments on whether the agency should reclassify broadband regulation under existing phone rules -- typically considered a stricter regulatory regime.
In April, a U.S. appeals court ruled the FCC had failed to show it had the authority to stop Comcast Corp from blocking online applications that distributed television shows and other bandwidth-hogging files.
Genachowski and his two fellow Democrats want the FCC to regulate broadband access to ensure the free flow of information and implement recommendations in its National Broadband Plan, which seeks to increase speeds and the number of users in the United States.
The FCC has tried to calm market fears, saying it will tread lightly by not enforcing rate regulation and line-sharing requirements under existing phone rules.
Despite the assurances, the formal move by the FCC on Thursday could lead to legal challenges by broadband providers.
"The FCC is hosting discussions seeking a consensus on Internet-access rules and that they plan to have a whole series of stakeholder meetings," the FCC senior official said.
Monday's 2.5-hour meeting was also attended by several FCC staff including Paul De Sa, head of the FCC's Office of Strategic Planning & Policy Analysis, according to a source familiar with the meeting.
In addition to the phone companies, FCC officials also met with lobbyists with the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, a trade group for cable companies; Google Inc; online phone provider Skype and the Open Internet Coalition, which represents Amazon.com Inc, eBay Inc, Facebook, and Twitter, the source said.
Several sources have said discussions have focused on how Genachowski can win the battle over net neutrality -- also known as open Internet principles -- in exchange for abandoning efforts to move broadband under phone rules.
One source said the meetings have not produce any real progress and participants have not yet tackled many of the thorny issues like open Internet rules for wireless devices.
In the U.S. Congress, lawmakers are considering changes to the U.S. telecommunications law to possibly give the FCC broadband authority and better reflect technological changes.
That process could take several years to reach final legislation. Key lawmakers announced last week that they plan to hold their own series of meetings with industry stakeholders starting on Friday.
Free Press and the Media Access Project, public interest groups, expressed disappointment with the FCC and Genachowski for not being invited to the meetings.
"It is stunning that the FCC would convene meetings between industry giants to allow them to determine how the agency should best protect the public interest," said Free Press President Josh Silver said.
"These meetings seem to indicate that this FCC has no problem brokering backroom deals without any public input or scrutiny," Silver said.
(Additional reporting by Sinead Carew in New York; editing by Todd Eastham)