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My Q&A with XO Communications, an ISP that favors net neutrality

XO Communications, an Internet service provider, says the big telecos don't speak for it. The company is pushing for net neutrality rules at the Federal Communications Commission that it believes could enhance competition among network operators like it.

The Herndon, Va. firm signed onto a letter with other high-tech companies Monday in support of FCC Chairman Juilus Genachowski's proposal for stronger and broader Internet access rules. XO Communications provides network access to 90,000 business customers and other carriers in 23 states.

Heather Gold, senior vice president of external affairs, spoke to me this afternoon about the company's take on net neutrality. Here's highlights from our conversation:

Why did you sign onto the letter with high-tech executives in support of net neutrality?
When you listen to the speech by Chairman Genachowski, it appeared to us very reasonable. I don’t see this as something people should be afraid of. If you try to discriminate against content or applications, you thwart innovation. We’ve seen those kinds of efforts go on in other aspects of telecom and we think broadband providers should be transparent and public so people know what your management practices are. There was nothing in his speech that scared me. We are sort of taken aback by all the protests...We're thinking "Wow, what is going on that you are afraid will be stopped?"

But there is growing concern by critics about new regulation that could impact their businesses.
The notice of proposed rule-making is not even out yet. We met with the chairman and my perception is that he is very tech-savvy, that he understands managing a business. He will put out set of rules that people will have months to comment on and my intention is to work closely with the FCC on how to provide services to customers. But we don't think it will result in a change in the way we do business.

As a smaller provider, would this rule help you? Could it impact competition among Internet service providers?
It could, just like open-access has pro-competitive implications. If you are a content or applications provider, you would rather work with someone forward and transparent.

But what about the argument that regulation could hurt investment in network infrastructure? After all, the Web has blossomed with little regulation so far.
We’ve heard that line of unintended consequences for years now and that is why we are ranked 15th in broadband in world. That mantra by the Bells is meant to thwart any progressive regulation. That is their general scare tactic: "If you do this, people won’t invest." But look at where that's gotten us.

Then again, are there enough examples of problems to warrant regulation? If what's in place now isn't totally broken, why fix it?
There have been enough questions raised about different practices that now is the time to make it clear. The four principles are noble. But they aren't regulation. The 5th and 6th principles [being proposed by Genachowski] really do reflect how important the Internet has become to the average consumer. So it is time to relook at the principles and make sure safeguards are in place.

And the rules should be platform-neutral. There is a lot of discussion on whether wireline or just cable or just wireless should be subject. But we believe how ever a consumer decides to access the Internet, those practices should be transparent and non-discriminatory.

By Cecilia Kang  |  October 20, 2009; 1:00 PM ET
 
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Comments

Ms. Gold is, unfortunately, misinformed about this issue. "Network neutrality" regulation would harm smaller ISPs such as XO. In fact, it would make illegal many of the terms of XO's Acceptable Use Policy, which can be found at

http://www.xo.com/about/policy/Pages/acceptable-use.aspx

For example, the Acceptable Use Policy says that

"...you may not, by use of any XO Service or another service, upload, post or otherwise distribute or facilitate distribution of any content, including text, communications, software, images, sounds, data, or other information that, in XO's discretion:

...

* Victimizes, harasses, degrades, or intimidates an individual or group of individuals on the basis of religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age, disability or any other reason

* Is posted in violation of a newsgroup charter

* Contains viruses, corrupted files, or any other similar software or programs that may damage the operation of another's computer

* Has a negative effect on XO or its network (including, without limitation, overloading servers on the XO Network; causing portions of the XO Network to be blocked by other network providers; generating unresolved third party complaints or complaints which, in the discretion of XO, impose an unreasonable administrative burden on the company; etc).

Apparently, XO's public relations person didn't check with the rest of the company before making statements that could severely damage it.

Posted by: squirma | October 22, 2009 1:12 PM | Report abuse

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