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Telecom, tech giants seek voluntary net neutrality commitments

Update: with quote from the Open Internet Coalition

The nation’s biggest broadband service providers and high-tech firms on Wednesday said they are working together to come up with voluntary guidelines for managing network data traffic, a move aimed to appease regulators who are pushing for stronger Internet access rules.

The Technical Advisory Group, formed by AT&T, Comcast, Google, Intel, Microsoft and Verizon, said it will consist of engineers and will be led by former Federal Communications Commission CTO Dale Hatfield. Their intention is to minimize disputes over policy questions such as how broadband providers can manage traffic on their networks in the context of the FCC’s push for new net neutrality rules.

Their agreement also comes amid a raging debate over FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s push to assert greater authority over broadband service providers by redefining Internet access as a telecommunications service. Analysts say the FCC could welcome voluntary commitments from the industry to meet its cornerstone objectives on broadband policy. The agency’s role as guardian over broadband Internet services was tested by a court case brought by Comcast on a previous net neutrality sanction.

Public interest group Media Access Project said it welcomes the initiative but insists it is an open process. And the Open Internet Coalition, a group that includes consumer groups and Internet firms such as Google, said the group's recommendations can't be a substitute for rules at the FCC.

"We strongly feel as with all self-regulatory regimes, this can only be effective with a legal backstop to enforce voluntary industry rules at the FCC," said OIC executive director, Markham Erickson. "Without such a backstop, this approach will be toothless and ultimately ineffective."

Over the coming weeks, the industry advisory group said it would try to “develop consensus on broadband network management practices or other technical issues that can affect users’ Internet experience, including the impact to and from applications, content and devices that utilize the Internet.” And the group said in a press release that it would take its suggestions and agreements on what are best practices to the FCC and related consumer protection agencies.

“The TAG will function as a neutral, expert technical forum and promote a greater consensus around technical practices within the Internet community,” said Hatfield. “The TAG would consider a number of factors in looking at technical practices, including whether a practice is used by others in the industry; whether alternative technical approaches are available; the impact of a technical practice on other entities; and whether a technical practice is aimed at specific content, applications or companies.”

Other participants include DISH Network, EchoStar, Intel, Level 3 Communications and Time Warner Cable. The organizations unanimously expressed their appreciation to Hatfield, one of the most respected engineers in the communications policy field, for his willingness to organize and chair the effort.

Hatfield is currently executive director at the Silicon Flatirons Center and adjunct professor in the interdisciplinary telecommunications at the University of Colorado at Boulder; as well as an independent consultant.

By Cecilia Kang  |  June 9, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  AT&T , Broadband , Comcast , Consumers , FCC , FTC , Google , Microsoft , Net Neutrality  
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Comments

This is a very positive development. Hopefully the Technical Advisory Group will be able to reach a consensus on voluntary guidelines for managing network data traffic. It is encouraging that the group plans to take their suggestions and agreements on what are best practices to the FCC and related consumer protection agencies, because they can provide additional valuable input. In the end consumers will have the opportunity to see how well those voluntary guidelines for managing network data traffic work in the marketplace, and they will provide the ultimate judgment.
If the result is satisfactory, the effort could save telecom policymakers a lot of time that could be productively devoted to other pressing broadband issues, such as universal service and spectrum shortages. Although there have been relatively few violations of the FCC’s network neutrality principles, there is always the risk that a company in the telecom sector that was not party to developing the guidelines might choose to ignore them,. For that reason it would also be wise for policymakers to formally adopt the Technical Advisory Group‘s guidelines so they could be enforced if necessary.
Bruce Hahn
President
American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance

Posted by: bhahn | June 9, 2010 8:23 PM | Report abuse

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