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NCTA Chief Warns of Legal War on Net Neutrality

CEO McSlarrow tells media group: We have First Amendment rights, too.

The cable industry isn’t taking long to send up smoke signals warning the Federal Communications Commission it could face a legal war if it moves too aggressively on net neutrality.

Kyle McSlarrow, president-CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, told members of the Washington-based Media Institute Wednesday that cable providers have First Amendment rights, too, and the FCC acting on President Obama’s promise for net neutrality could violate them.

To tell a provider that it can’t enter a contract for “unique prioritization of quality of service enhancement” would “invite First Amendment scrutiny,” said McSlarrow.

The comments represent the opening salvo in a big fight next year in which movie and TV studios and the cable industry battle consumer groups and some major web and software companies over the internet’s future.
The FCC is considering rewriting its rules for the internet to prevent content providers from offering one site advantages others don’t have. Consumer groups and companies like Google and Amazon contend that without net neutrality, big companies would have far more control of the web and new small sites couldn’t compete. They’ve also suggested the result would be impact speech.

Comcast, for instance, could offer higher speed or better quality downloads of NBC shows, while YouTube clips are seen in lower quality.

Obama endorsed net neutrality in a campaign document crafted by Julius Genachowski, who now is FCC chairman.

McSlarrow denied Wednesday that the cable industry has any plan to sue the FCC just yet — that he plans to try to work with the commission first.

He also questioned whether net neutrality guarantees are needed, calling them “almost completely unnecessary.”
“I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than this: Internet Service Providers do not threaten free speech,” he said.