FCC Chair Proposes New Net Neutrality Rules

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In a speech at the Brookings Institution, new FCC chairman Julius Genachowski unveiled a proposal for new rules (PDF) designed to ensure Internet network operators don’t discriminate between different types of Internet traffic, and manage their networks in a transparent, open manner rather than hiding their practices behind layers of indirection and bureaucracy. The concept, widely known as “net neutrality,” centers on Internet network operators treating all types of traffic equally regardless of the nature of the data, the application(s) that produce it, or its destination.

“Millions of us depend upon [the Internet] every day: at home, at work, in school—and everywhere in between,” Genachowski said in his speech. “The principles that will protect the open Internet are an essential step to maximize investment and innovation in the network and on the edge of it—by establishing rules of the road that incentivize competition, empower entrepreneurs, and grow the economic pie to the benefit of all.”

Although the rules will be formally proposed an an open meeting in October, Genachowski laid out what they will include. In addition to the four principles of openness adopted by the FCC in 2005:

  • consumers are entitled to access any lawful content
  • consumers are free to use any lawful application or service,
  • consumers may connect any legal device to the network
  • consumers are entitled to competition along network, service, application, and content providers

…the FCC expects to propose two new principles:

  • network operators may not discriminate against particular Internet content or applications
  • Internet access providers’ data management practices must be transparent

Genachowski indicated he will propose that all six principles be applicable to all platforms that access the Internet, including traditional computers as well as set-top devices, mobile phones, televisions, set-top boxes, portable devices, and more.

Companies like Google have long advocated open networks as a way to spur competition and innovation in the technology arena, creating an open playing field where anyone with a good idea can make their technology or content available to any Internet user who wants it. Network operators like Comcast and Verizon have opposed government regulation of network access, arguing that companies like Google are building their businesses on the backs of the physical infrastructures they didn’t create. Network operators would like to be able to charge high-data services (like streaming video) a premium for preferential service, as well as potentially engage in network management practices that shut down what operators view as undesirable applications or bandwidth utilization—such as Comcast’s much-publicized disabling of file-sharing applications using forged packets.

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