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FCC Announces Proposal for New 'Net Neutrality' Rules

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FCC Announces Proposal for New 'Net Neutrality' Rules
September 21, 2009
By Marisa Torrieri, TMCnet Editor


The FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (News - Alert), on Monday, announced a proposal to regulate Internet through new rules that would require Internet providers treat all Web traffic the same way – whether it’s delivered on mobile phones, office desktops or other platforms.

But while the news of ‘net neutrality’ is being cheered by Web developers and consumer advocacy groups, the wireless carrier community is concerned that such a rule’s passing could significantly impact services and the growth of revenue-generating high-bandwidth applications.
At a packed, two-hour meeting at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution, Genachowski outlined six key open Internet principles as part of the agency’s ambitious broadband policy agenda. According to the FCC (News - Alert), Congress has tasked the agency with developing a national broadband plan by February 17, 2010. 
The first four open Internet principles affirm that consumers must be able to access the lawful Internet content, applications, and services of their choice, and attach non-harmful devices to the network. In today’s speech, Chairman Genachowski proposed the addition of two new principles. The first would prevent Internet access providers from discriminating against particular Internet content or applications, while allowing for reasonable network management. The second principle would ensure that Internet access providers are transparent about the network management practices they implement. The Chairman also proposed clarifying that all six principles apply to all platforms that access the Internet.
“The free and open Internet faces substantial challenges,” Genachowski said, adding that because of the lack of Internet regulation, he’s seen “at least one service provider” deny access to political content. “We have the obligation to ensure the Internet remains a vast landscape for innovation and opportunity … an unfettered platform to creativity.”
In the coming, Genachowski said the FCC intends to follow standard federal process of turning a rule into a law, first by publishing a formal notice of proposed rulemaking, holding public forums and a public comment period.  
Meanwhile, Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA (News - Alert)-The Wireless Association, issued a statement before the announcement that the organization is “deeply concerned” about the about the unintended consequences that the net neutrality regulation would have on investments from the very industry that's helping to drive the U.S. economy.
 “We believe that this kind of regulation is unnecessary in the competitive wireless space as it would prevent carriers from managing their networks -- such as curtailing viruses and other harmful content -- to the benefit of their consumers,” Guttman-McCabe said.
David E. Young, vice president of federal regulatory affairs for Verizon (News - Alert) Communications, also addressed this concerns during a paneled debate, which followed FCC Chairman Genachowski’s speech.  
“We are very pleased to hear that the outcome is not predetermined,” Young said, adding that Verizon supports the open Internet on its devices. “We need to look at the facts. What are the problems that need to be fixed? Wireless is a very, very different environment than wireline and broadband. There are spectrum constraints that exist. The mobility factor is huge. Demand can appear out of nowhere as users converge.”
Young stopped short of saying what actions Verizon will take to respond to an official proposal, but stated that “there are important issues at stake and we intend to fully engage on them.”
While there is a case to be made for managing content to block spam, viruses and security threats, panelist Josh Silverman, CEO of Skype Technologies, a software provider of a video application that allows people to communicate for free or inexpensively over IP networks, said that carriers who manage phone content are not “cannibalizing” their own revenues. Instead, they are experiencing more growth. 
For example, Silverman said that in the U.K., the carrier 3 is earning higher revenues with Skype services because more people now use their mobile devices for Skype. But in the United States, Skype is still being blocked on a lot of cell carriers’ networks.
“It is with an open and free Internet that we develop wonderful new applications like Skype, like Facebook (News - Alert), like Twitter,” Silverman said. “If you look at the next generation of smart phones, all they are is pocket-size computers that happen to be wirelessly connected.” 

Marisa Torrieri is a TMCnet Editor. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Marisa Torrieri

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