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Federal Trade Commission examines net neutrality

Move welcomed by consumer groups

The US FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has formed an "Internet Access Task Force" to examine whether net neutrality advocates' fears of large broadband providers blocking or slowing web content from competitors are justified, the agency's chairwoman said.

Chairwoman Deborah Platt Majoras on Monday also called on lawmakers to be cautious about passing a net neutrality law, which could prohibit broadband providers such as AT&T and Comcast from giving their own internet content top priority, or from charging websites additional fees for faster service.

Net neutrality advocates are sincere in their concerns, Majoras said during a speech at the PFF's (Progress and Freedom Foundation's) Aspen Summit in Colorado. "I just question the starting assumption that government regulation, rather than the market itself under existing laws, will provide the best solution to a problem," she said.

New legal mandates often have "unintended consequences", she said. But the FTC will investigate problems with discriminatory practices from broadband providers, Majoras added.

"While I am sounding cautionary notes about new legislation, let me make clear that if broadband providers engage in anticompetitive conduct, we will not hesitate to act using our existing authority," she said. "But I have to say, thus far, proponents of net neutrality regulation have not come to us to explain where the market is failing or what anticompetitive conduct we should challenge."

Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group, welcomed the FTC's examination of net neutrality.

"We certainly look forward to the analysis of an agency that exists to protect competition of the broadband market in which 98 percent of customers receive their service from either the telephone company or the cable company, if they have that choice at all," Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn said in an email. "There are no market forces at work here, much as Chairman Majoras wishes there to be."

The FTC will host a conference, from 6 to 8 November, focusing on protecting consumers in an era of converging technologies, Majoras also announced. The conference, named "Protecting Consumers in the Next Tech-Ade", will focus on emerging trends, applications, products, services and tech issues in the next decade, she said.

The preliminary agenda can be found here.

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