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Will the open Internet become a partisan divide

Add a little industry Astroturf and a plan depressingly like that in health care starts to become visible. Turn some insiders with industry money, work from the outside on ideological grounds, and the 2008 election need never have happened.

The idea of an open and neutral Internet is about to become a political flash point.

The launch of a new site dedicated to the issue, OpenInternet.gov (above) was accompanied by FCC chair Julius Genachowski publishing his speech text at The Washington Post and a brief commentary based on it at The Huffington Post, a liberal site.

The regulatory regime he proposed is along the lines of a net neutrality bill offered by Democrats that got a hearing in the House last week. The agency and the House agree on their aims, the main differences being how and where the details will be fleshed out.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal, which hosted policy pronouncements from top regulators throughout the Bush Administration, ran a piece about Genachowski's moves that was highly skeptical of both their rationale and their legality.

It said Republicans will oppose Genachowski on "free enterprise" grounds, and pointed to a suit by Comcast against previous attempts to impose a set of net neutrality rules.

At the same time the two Republican members of the FCC said they opposed any net neutrality for wireless, and support exclusive deals between equipment makers and networks like the AT&T-iPhone deal.

Add a little industry Astroturf and a plan depressingly like that in health care starts to become visible. Turn some insiders with industry money, work from the outside on ideological grounds, and the 2008 election need never have happened. Plus you can blame the Democrats if they fail to crush you -- call them partisan and ideological.

My view remains that net neutrality would not be necessary in an environment where there is ample competition. If someone wants an ISP or cell operator that will block everything to the left of Fox News they should have it, so long as the market offers ample alternatives.

Unfortunately antitrust does not appear to be the ground the Obama Administration seems ready to stand on. Which could make the open Internet a partisan divide for years to come.