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.

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.

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