My Interview With FCC Chairman: No Retreat On Net Neutrality
If they weren't paying much attention before, the telecom, cable and wireless industries are in rapt attention to Washington now as the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission pushes for rules that could set the course of development of the Web.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, three months into the job, has introduced so-called net neutrality rules, that would codify and broaden policies that prohibit Internet service providers like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner from acting as gatekeepers of content on the Web. If you want to download legal content or an application onto your cell phone or from your home computer, the rules Genachowski has proposed would make sure no one stands in your way, the chairman explained.
The industry doesn't want more rules, but has responded by trying to crack open their networks a little more. But the chairman isn't retreating.
Here are some of the key questions and answers from my interview:
How does the move by AT&T to allow VoIP iPhone applications on their wireless network move the needle on net neutrality? If the industry is moving in the direction you are proposing, why continue with rules?
I applaud wireless companies' efforts to provide consumers with innovative, third-party services and applications, which is one reason I was encouraged by AT&T’s expression of willingness in its letter to the FCC to reconsider this issue. Yet we must recognize that this is a voluntary commitment by a single company. The rules I have proposed will preserve and protect openness for all lawful content, applications, and services on the Internet, and for all American consumers. The purpose is to ensure that the Internet remains our indispensable platform for innovation, opportunity, and prosperity.
How will the FCC deal with questions of network management that are unique to the wireless industry?
As Americans increasingly shift from wired to wireless broadband, it will be essential to ensure that the Internet remains free and open. A consumer accessing the Internet through a laptop with a wireless data card will have the same expectations regarding their Internet use as a consumer accessing the Internet utilizing the same laptop through a DSL or cable modem connection. However, managing a wireless network isn't the same as managing a fiber network, and what constitutes reasonable network management will appropriately reflect any operational differences.
Above all, transparency will be important for any practices that providers implement.
One argument against rules is that they would hamper investment in broadband. Do you agree with this idea?
A free and open Internet will promote investment and innovation. This has long been the case. There are hundreds of thousands of Americans whose small businesses rely upon the free and open Internet. Small businesses are where that majority of new jobs are created. Amazon, Ebay, Yahoo!, Google, YouTube, and countless others began as start-ups that took advantage of the Internet, with its low barrier to market entry, and used it as a platform for opportunity and innovation. The rules I am proposing seek to preserve the Internet as unparalleled engine for economic growth and prosperity.
How do you believe the wireless industry will contribute to the economy going forward?
The FCC sees mobile as an indispensable ingredient to our national broadband strategy. No sector of the communications industry holds greater potential to enhance America’s economic competitiveness, spur job creation, and improve the quality of our lives.
The Commission will pursue a Mobile Broadband Agenda that promotes a world-leading wireless sector in the United States. Our goal is to ensure that the mobile industry continues its progress toward global leadership, driving economic growth, and unleashing the next generation of innovation.
When you said the nitty gritty of net neutrality rules will be handled on a case by case basis, will your vision of the rules be clear enough for the wireless, telecom and cable industries? Please give a sense of your approach to these rules -- as a high level guide.
The goal of the open Internet proceeding will be to develop sensible rules of the road. Rules clear enough to provide predictability and certainty, and flexible enough to anticipate and welcome ongoing technological evolution.
Republican House leaders say the proposal for open Internet policies distracts from the FCC's mandate to come up with a national broadband plan. What's your response?
The Commission can tackle several initiatives at the same time.
Do you believe Google Voice should also be included in AT&T's commitment to bring VoIP services to their network for the iPhone?
I haven't looked in detail at the announcement, but I believe it is the Commission’s staff’s understanding that AT&T’s commitment includes all Internet-based calling -- and if Google Voice is an IP-based voice service, then presumably it is included in this announcement.
What do you make of reports that Comcast is interested in buying NBC? Will the FCC take a closer look at cable operators' acquisition of content providers?
The FCC does not speculate on proposed transactions.
October 8, 2009; 12:53 PM ET
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