Tuesday, September 22, 2009

FCC Makes Move on Net Neutrality

The fight for Net Neutrality took a big step forward on Monday with the chair of the Federal Communications Commission announcing plans to expand the rules to protect a free and open Internet.

In a speech at the Brookings Institution, Julius Genachowski said the FCC must be a "smart cop on the beat” preserving Net Neutrality against increased efforts by providers to block services and applications over both wired and wireless connections.

Genachowski’s speech comes as a breath of fresh air in a Washington policy environment that has long stagnated under the influence of a powerful phone and cable lobby.

“If we wait too long to preserve a free and open Internet, it will be too late,” Genachowski said citing a number of recent examples where network providers have acted as gatekeepers:

We have witnessed certain broadband providers unilaterally block access to VoIP applications (phone calls delivered over data networks) and implement technical measures that degrade the performance of peer-to-peer software distributing lawful content. We have even seen at least one service provider deny users access to political content.

A Call for Wired and Wireless Neutrality

The agency has earlier noted concerns about the blocking of applications and services on new handheld Internet devices such as the iPhone.

Ben Scott of Free Press responds to Genachowski's speech
Genachowski, who was an architect of President Obama’s technology agenda, proposed that the agency adopt new principles that would prevent discrimination and require full transparency from ISPs that seek to manage their networks. The new principles are additions to the “Four Freedoms” endorsed by the FCC in 2005.

Genachowski asked the FCC to adopt all six principles as Internet rules that are “essential to ensuring its continued openness.” FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn have already indicated they support stronger Net Neutrality rules.

“The rise of serious challenges to the free and open Internet puts us at a crossroads,” Genachowski said. “We could see the Internet’s doors shut to entrepreneurs, the spirit of innovation stifled, a full and free flow of information compromised. Or we could take steps to preserve Internet openness, helping ensure a future of opportunity, innovation, and a vibrant marketplace of ideas.”

The Right Rules, Right Now

In a panel of experts following the speech, David Young of Verizon Communications stated that his company is able to “live with” Internet openness standards. “Openness and innovation are keys to our success,” Young said, but added predictably that he prefers a “hands off approach.”

Young later added a familiar lobbyist refrain that he "doesn't understand what the problem is that we are trying to solve" with openness rules. Verizon has already deployed 194 lobbyists at a cost of more than $13 million this year to fight Net Neutrality both at the FCC and in Congress.

"The Internet is inevitably going to have a regulatory structure around it," Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott said in response to Young. "What we're deciding is: What is it going to look like?"

“What we heard today is a very common-sense approach,” Scott said. “But in this town, doing something common sense is considered bold.”

“[This is] about fair rules of the road for companies that control access to the Internet,” Genachowski concluded. “We will do as much as we need to do, and no more, to ensure that the Internet remains an unfettered platform for competition, creativity, and entrepreneurial activity.”

The FCC Opens Its Doors

Now the FCC has to actually write the new rules and invite comments from the public and interested parties.

To engage more public participation in the process, Genachowski announced that the agency would hold a series of public workshops on openness. In addition, the FCC launched a new Web site, www.openinternet.gov, so the public can “contribute to the process.”

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