But Comcast has appealed that order, saying that the FCC doesn't have the authority to enforce net neutrality rules. There is the potential for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to rule against the FCC, either by saying the FCC must create a rule against net neutrality instead of enforcing broad principles, or by saying the FCC has no authority to enforce net neutrality under existing law, panelists said.
Arbogast and Cicconi also rejected Wellings' suggestion that the US government consider rules forcing broadband providers to sell access to competitors on a wholesale basis. That concept, tried in the late '90s and early this decade, largely didn't work, Arbogast said.
But broadband providers are trying to have it "both ways," by rejecting a net neutrality law and rejecting efforts to spur competition such as mandated line-sharing, said Markham Erickson, executive director of the Open Internet Coalition, a group advocating for net neutrality rules. More competition could lessen the need for net neutrality rules, he said.
Arbogast agreed. "If we had five or six [broadband] competitors, my guess is we wouldn't be having this conversation," she said.
Wellings expressed hope that President-elect Barack Obama will push for net neutrality -- he was a cosponsor of the 2007 Dorgan bill -- and will push for ways to expand broadband to rural and other underserved areas of the country. "The iPhone is still not available in North Dakota, and it's a sad thing," she said.