FCC To Introduce Net Neutrality Rule
Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, plans to propose a new so-called net neutrality rule Monday that could prevent telecommunications, cable and wireless companies from blocking Internet applications, according to sources at the agency.
Genachowski will discuss the rules Monday during a keynote speech at The Brookings Institute. He isn't expected to drill into many details, but the proposal will specifically be for an additional guideline on how operators like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast can control what goes on their networks. That additional guideline would prevent the operators from discriminating, or act as gatekeepers, of Web content and services.
The guidelines in place today have been criticized by applications developers like Google and public interest groups for not going far enough to clarify what is defined as discriminatory behavior. Comcast is fighting in federal court an FCC ruling that it violated the guidelines by blocking a video application last year. AT&T and Verizon have said existing rules are sufficient, and more regulation is unnecessary. However, they have also said they wouldn't fight against an additional guideline that focuses on discriminatory behavior.
The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because details of the new regulations haven't been officially announced.
The new rule would be the first bold move by Genachowski, who served as President Obama's technology advisor during the campaign and transition. The rule could upset wireless, telecom and cable operators who have fought against regulations that would give them less control over traffic that runs on their networks. They argue that they need to maintain flexibility to manage traffic to ensure some applications don't take up too much bandwidth and make Web access slower for some users.
The agency is expected to review what traffic management is reasonable and what practices are discriminatory. The guidelines are known as "principals" at the agency, which some public interest groups have sought to codify so that they would clearly be enforceable by the agency.
The debate over net neutrality encompasses a wide variety of technology companies. Some -- like Google -- create applications for the Web and want customers to have easy access to their wares. Network owners, however, find themselves increasing on the defensive; their traditional business of providing phone and television has been challenged by upstarts providing much of the same content on the Web.
Such network operators have drawn scrutiny of late.
Google revealed Friday in letters to the FCC that Apple rejected its voice service and a mapping service on the popular iPhone and Internet voice service Skype has fought for rules that would prevent companies like AT&T from keeping its service off its wireless 3G network. The FCC asked AT&T, Apple and Google to respond to questions about allegations that Google Voice was blocked. Apple denies it rejected the application, saying it is still evaluating whether to permit it on the iPhone. And it is unclear whether the FCC can regulate the manufacturers of wireless phones, which some argue are part of wireless networks and others say are separate from networks and not under the jurisdiction of the agency.
Consumer interest groups have pushed for new rules and key lawmakers Thursday ratcheted up the debate when Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee said he would co-author a net neutrality bill with Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Anna Eschoo (D-Calif.).
"If the commission moves forward on network neutrality, it will achieve the president's signature tech policy agenda item," said Ben Scott, director of policy at public interest group Free Press. "And it's a firm move to protect the open Internet for consumers and producers of content in a competitive marketplace of speech and commerce."
September 18, 2009; 2:15 PM ET
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