Free Press Asks FCC to Apply Net Neutrality to Wireless

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Consumer rights organization The Free Press has asked the Federal Communications Commission to apply its 2005 Internet Policy Statement—otherwise known as the FCC’s principles of net neutrality—to wireless Internet services, as well as more-traditional wireline broadband services. The reason? Mobile operators’ seeming unwillingness to open their data networks to services like Skype which would compete with their existing voice offerings.

“Wireless broadband networks cannot become a safe haven for discrimination,” said Free Press’s policy counsel Chris Riley, in a statement. “The Internet in your pocket should be just as free and open as the Internet in your home. The FCC must make it crystal clear that a closed Internet will not be tolerated on any platform.”

The request comes just as a version of the VoIP service Skype has launched on both the iPhone and BlackBerry platforms—which would seem to suggest that AT&T and other carriers are OK with IP-based voice services using their 3G networks. However, to have data service at all for an iPhone or BlackBerry device currently requires a contract with voice service, so carriers aren’t missing out on revenue if callers decide to go with Skype rather than traditional voice service.

However, the Free Press has also noted that carriers like T-Mobile have reportedly restricted so-called “tethering” applications that enable 3G-capable devices to be used to connect notebook computers and other devices to the Internet, as well as AT&T’s recent policy change prohibiting “customer initiated redirection of television or other video or audio signals via any technology from a fixed location to a mobile device”—a direct strike at place-shifting services like Slingbox. The Free Press sees these actions as largely equivalent to Comcast’s decision to hamper P2P traffic on its network by sending forged reset requests to shut down connections, where the FCC’s openness principles permit consumers to use any service or application they like, so long as it is lawful.

In the meantime, interim FCC chair Michael Copps has said the next chair of the FCC—likely Julius Genachowski—should consider a fifth principle of network neutrality that would likely outline the enforcement actions the FCC would take against service providers for discriminating against applications and services.

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