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FCC's Net Neutrality Push to Boldly Go Where Congress Has Failed Thrice Before

jgJulius Genachowski, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, plans to propose a set of rules to define network neutrality in a speech Monday at the Brookings Institution, according to the Wall Street Journal. The proposed rules would require carriers to treat all traffic across both wired and wireless networks equally, the Journal said. Carriers, especially those in the wireless realm, are likely to oppose such an effort, which they have consistently portrayed as the government interfering with their ability to manage their networks.

Monday would be an ideal time for Genachowski to initiate the debate, something Congress has done three times since 2006 with eight different bills. Genachowski is set to speak presumably as part of a release of a report by the institution that sings the praises of open networks. (We covered this report on Tuesday.) An FCC spokeswoman declined to comment, but affirmed that Genachowski was making a speech. Following his speech is a panel discussion featuring Ben Scott, policy director of the Free Press; Josh Silverman CEO, Skype Technologies; Darrell M. West, vice president and director, Governance Studies at Brookings; and David E. Young, vice president, Federal Regulatory Affairs, Verizon Communications (S vz).

It’s a safe bet that the issue will be open access on networks, although the presence of someone from Verizon has me wondering how far-reaching the network neutrality efforts will be. However, of all the carriers, Verizon does have the most planned broadband capacity with its fiber-to-the-home network, and could stomach the demand for over-the-top-video and VoIP that frustrates other providers to no end. But any wireless proposal would be especially controversial, given the limited amount of spectrum available to carriers on their wireless networks. The Journal story cites a source that says Genachowski’s plan would take those bandwidth limitations into account.

Monday is also the day that the FCC is supposed to respond to a lawsuit filed by Comcast, alleging that the agency has no right to mandate net neutrality rules without a proper rule-making procedure. The FCC censured Comcast last year after the cable company was caught blocking P2P files on its network, and Comcast sued the agency questioning the legitimacy of its interference.

If Genachowski proposes to formalize the existing broadband policy statement and expand the principals within it further, we can expect carriers to follow up with editorials pointing out that net neutrality will damage the Internet, as well as heated arguments in Washington. The country’s lawmakers have proposed eight different net neutrality bills since 2006, and so far none of them have passed. There is one wending its way through the legislative process today.

As an example of the potential uproar, already I have a statement sent to me from Chris Guttman-McCabe, VP of regulatory affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, based on the mere suggestions that Genachowski will seek to craft net neutrality proposals:

We are waiting to reading [sic] the Chairman’s proposal, but as we’ve said before, we are concerned about the unintended consequences that net neutrality regulation would have on investments from the very industry that’s helping to drive the U.S. economy. We believe that this kind of regulation is unnecessary in the competitive wireless space as it would prevent carriers from managing their networks — such as curtailing viruses and other harmful content — to the benefit of their consumers.

We’ll have to wait until Monday to see how far Genachowski plans to go with his net neutrality crusade, but a well-crafted and flexible plan to ensure that traffic shaping is aimed at improving the consumer web experience rather than limiting it, would be a welcome one.

15 Responses to “FCC's Net Neutrality Push to Boldly Go Where Congress Has Failed Thrice Before”

  1. This is an important issue and it’s good to see that the new Chairman has moved to put Net Neutrality on the front burner of communications policy. His vision of an open Internet that preserves the “freedom to innovate without permission” is one that our organization, the Center for Democracy & Technology, shares; it’s an idea we believe all Internet users and innovators should vigorously support. The move today to expand the FCC’s Internet principles to include the issues of nondiscrimination and transparency are two areas that the agency’s original principles have overlooked for too long.

    Ideally, today’s news would prompt Congress to take up the matter too. For a long time we’ve said that FCC activity on Internet neutrality would benefit from clear congressional guidance, authorization, and limits, so that the FCC’s task and regulatory authority are not open-ended. You can read more about our thoughts on this by looking the more inclusive comments we submitted to the FCC on its overall Broadband Plan.

  2. This is a solution in search of a problem. If carriers offer a substandard internet experience, users can switch to a different service. If customers are complaining about their service, or feel they are somehow getting shafted, that’s one thing…but churning through legislative cycles in case something might happen? Seems like a waste of time and energy when competition can address it.

    • Horse-Puckey!

      If I plan in advance which city to live in, I can actually have a choice between 3 carriers;
      Cable, DSL, and Fiber.

      It doesn’t really matter what the branding is, those are my three carriers. In some cases, even those three are really only two; AT&T fiber vs AT&T DSL is still only one carrier.

      Better yet, ask this question:
      If I subscribe to ‘BetterDSL Inc’, and they are using ‘BigPhoneCo’ copper, does my BetterDSL access still get ‘managed’ by BigPhoneCo’s ‘All your video are belong to us’ network?

      Every time I hear the argument that a customer could simply switch carriers, I assume the argument comes from one of two places: Anti-network nuetrality, or the Twilight Zone(c).

      • My main point is that consumer choice is not a reality when it comes to broandband internet access, and that claiming that consumer choice is a valid balance for carriers manipulating the network is simply not true.

        However, network neutrality rules could be a balance for the lack of choice consumers currently have. I can easily foresee all carriers in a market giving and enforcing preference to their ‘monetized content’ partners.

        How exactly does allowing a carrier to regulate content (which is what ‘network preferencing’ boils down to) do anything but harm competition among content providers?

        If BigContentCo can buy enough network preference, how does SmallStartupLLC compete? The only competition is in the bidding war for each carriers network preference level. Great for the carriers, not good for new content providers, not good for the end-users (aka consumers).

  3. If Congress succeeds in pushing this through, I have a list of follow-up business models that would benefit from neutrality:

    Search Neutrality. Currently, if you pay Google more your ad appears higher on the list of search results. This is unfair and discriminates against the little guy.

    Coffee Neutrality. With Starbucks on every street corner, the playing field for caffeine pushers is hardly level. We can fix this.

    Airplane Seat Neutrality. It defies the basic rules of fairness that people paying more should get bigger seats near the front of the plane. Let’s put a stop to this practice.

    Baseball Neutrality. Why should the Yankees get all the good ball players? Let’s put a stop to team payroll practices that only serve to keep the Cubs from winning a world series.

    I’m sure the readers can come up with more…

  4. This may sound like a simplistic question, but does this really mean that all packets would be treated equally? That the carriers would not be able to prioritize video/VoIP traffic over email? Or is it just to protect network traffic from a source other than the operator (e.g. BitTorrent over AT&T’s network)?