FCC Expands and Strengthens Net Neutrality Stance

As expected, but not without controversy, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski yesterday outlined in a speech at the Brookings Institute in Washington, DC his plan to preserve the principle of "Net Neutrality."

Net Neutrality is the principle that Internet providers should treat all data the same and not restrict access to certain types of Internet sites.

In his speech, Chairman Genachowski said that,

"The Internet is an extraordinary platform for innovation, job creation, investment, and opportunity. It has unleashed the potential of entrepreneurs and enabled the launch and growth of small businesses across America. It is vital that we safeguard the free and open Internet."

Previously, the FCC has "embraced"  four  principles for an open Internet, namely, consumers must be able:  (1) to access lawful Internet content, (2) to access lawful Internet  applications, (3) to access lawful Internet services of their choice, and (4) to attach non-harmful devices to the Internet.                

Chairman Genachowski reiterated that these four principles guide the FCC’s existing case-by-case enforcement of communications law.

However, the FCC is also proposing two new principles. As explained here,

"The first would prevent Internet access providers from discriminating against particular Internet content or applications, while allowing for reasonable network management. The second principle would ensure that Internet access providers are transparent about the network management practices they implement."

In addition, and importantly,  the FCC also is proposing that all six principles apply to all platforms that access the Internet. The official rulemaking process will start next month.

Well, it didn't take long before Internet providers and telecos started taking aim at what they think is government intrusion into their business, as well as a "protect Google at their expense" set of regulations. Google has been pushing hard for unfettered access to the Internet, especially on devices such as smart phones.

AT&T, for example, was especially unhappy with the expansion of "Net Neutrality" to the wireless arena, where the FCC hadn't pushed it before. In a press release AT&T said:

"We are concerned, however, that the FCC appears ready to extend the entire array of net neutrality requirements to what is perhaps the most competitive consumer market in America, wireless services. .... We would thus be very disappointed if (the FCC) has already drawn a conclusion to regulate wireless services despite the absence of any compelling evidence of problems or abuse that would warrant government intervention."

Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA, the wireless industry’s trade group also didn't seem too pleased with the speech, asking ...

"How do the rules apply to the single-purpose Amazon Kindle?  How does it apply to Google’s efforts to cache content to provide a better consumer experience?  How about the efforts from Apple and Android, Blackberry and Nokia, Firefly and others to differentiate the products and services they develop for consumers?  Should all product and service offerings be the same?"

The official FCC rulemaking process will start next month, but it is pretty certain that all six principles will be codified into US communications regulation. The only fly in the ointment is a U.S. District Court of Appeals case filed by Comcast in Washington, DC last year.

Comcast is appealing the ruling by the FCC in August 2008 that Comcast violated Net Neutrality by restricting file sharing BitTorrent traffic to some of its customers last year. If Comcast wins the appeal, then Net Neutrality may need to be redefined again.

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