FCC has instituted net neutrality regulations
Updated: Tuesday, June 21st, 2011 | By David G. Taylor
The term "net neutrality" is important to every Internet user. Yet, its precise meaning remains hazy at best to the majority of the American public.
So what exactly is net neutrality?
The phrase refers to the unwritten rule of the road that has governed the Internet since its beginning -- that all Internet users deserve equal access to online information. The idea here is that a 40-year-old electrician in Cleveland, Ohio, should be able to access Amazon.com just as easily as a 20-year-old college student in Gainesville, Fla. It doesn't matter what Internet service provider (ISP) they use. Whether it is Verizon or Time Warner, ISPs should be 'neutral' to the content their customers consume, as long as it's legal.
In recent years, ISPs have begun to backtrack on this principle. In 2007, customers accused Comcast of 'throttling', or purposely slowing down, downloads through the file-sharing protocol BitTorrent. ISPs argued that their ability to discriminate between bits of information is necessary to conserve bandwith and give customers a quality online experience. They said the practice was necessary given the ever-growing number of individuals using the Internet.
Internet rights groups oppose this rationale and advocate codifying net neutrality. They said that the open Internet enabled companies like Google, Skype and Facebook to reach their current prominence. There is also fear that an ISP such as Verizon may choose to block a service like Skype because it competes with Verizon's mobile phone business.
Barack Obama supported net neutrality during the 2008 campaign. After his inauguration, he appointed Julius Genachoswki, a net neutrality supporter, as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In December 21, 2010, the FCC approved a plan to implement net neutrality regulations in a 3-2 party-line vote.
The FCC's new rules prevent broadband ISPs from blocking lawful content and other Internet services. President Obama, in praising the FCC's passage of the rules said, "Today's decision will help preserve the free and open nature of the Internet while encouraging innovation, protecting consumer choice and defending free speech."
Many stakeholders were unhappy with this decision. Congressional Republicans contend that net neutrality is an unnecessary government intervention in the Internet that will serve to stifle innovation. President Obama threatened to veto a House GOP-led effort to repeal the regulations in April, 2011. Undeterred, this month the Republican-controlled House of Representatives stripped FCC enforcement funding of net neutrality from the draft of the Fiscal Year 2012 Financial Services Appropriations bill.
The FCC decision also provoked the ire of communications companies. Verizon and MetroPCS filed suit in federal court to overturn the rules on the grounds that the FCC had overstepped its regulatory authority. A judge dismissed the suit on the grounds that court challenges cannot be brought until rules are promulgated in the Federal Register. Their publication had been delayed for several months. It is only after publication that Congress may begin steps to alter the rules and plaintiffs have standing to challenge them in court.
And some Internet rights groups weren't happy with the decision, because the FCC regulations do not fully cover wireless carriers. The FCC argued that this exemption is a recognition of the reality that wireless Internet suffers from overuse due to massive amounts of new customers and therefore carriers must be granted the flexibility to put some limits on use. In theory this exemption means that wireless carriers could block access to apps that interfere with performance.
The concern among Internet rights groups is that wireless carriers may use this performance rationale to ban competitors' apps. Senator Al Franken, D-Minn., a leading congressional proponent of net neutrality, emphasized this point when he said, "If the F.C.C. passes this weak rule, Verizon will be able to cut off access to the Google Maps app on your phone and force you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it is not as good. And even if they charge money, when Google Maps is free."
Given the multiple judicial and legislative battles on the horizon, net neutrality is far from a settled issue. Nevertheless, Obama promised that he would support net neutrality to "to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet." Whether or not the FCC's regulations preserve or restrain the benefits of open competition is a debatable proposition. Yet President Obama, by appointing Julius Genachowski (a net neutrality supporter) and subsequently backing the FCC's decision, has supported net neutrality principles. Thus, we rate this as a Promise Kept.
Update: This report has been changed to reflect that BitTorrent is a file-sharing protocol, not a website.
Federal Communications Commission, Open Internet Report and Order, December 21, 2010
Federal Communications Commission, press release, December 21, 2010
The New York Times, "Comcast: We're Delaying, Not Blocking, BitTorrent Traffic," October 22, 2007
YouTube "Sen. Barack Obama discusses net neutrality on MTV" uploaded October 29, 2007
The Wall Street Journal, "Obama to Tap Tech Adviser as FCC Chief," January 13, 2009
The New York Times, "F.C.C. Chairman Outlines Broadband Framework," December 1, 2010
While House Press Release, "Statement by the President on Today's FCC Vote on Net Neutrality," December 21, 2010
The Washington Post, "FCC approves net-neutrality rules; criticism is immediate," December 22, 2010
The Hill, "White House issues veto threat for repeal of net-neutrality rules," April 4, 2011
POLITICO,"House GOP moves to cut net neutrality funding," June 15, 2011
The Washington Post, "Court dismisses Verizon lawsuit against FCC net neutrality rules," April 4, 2011
POLITICO, "FCC slow to publish neutrality rules," May 26, 2011
The New York Times, "F.C.C. Poised to Pass Net Neutrality Order," December 20, 2010
FCC chairman outlines plan for enacting Net neutrality
Updated: Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009 | By Louis Jacobson
Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski cheered consumer advocates — and worried Internet service providers — on Sept. 21, 2009, when he announced that his agency would seek to establish new rules on "Net neutrality," the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.
The issue has been debated and lobbied for roughly a decade. Generally speaking, consumer groups want to make sure that Internet providers aren't able to sign exclusive deals with certain Web sites to give their customers preferential access. Without an affirmative policy of Net neutrality, consumer advocates argue, the World Wide Web would lose its egalitarian nature. Some electronic retailers also prefer the Net neutrality approach, fearing that they could either be gouged by service providers in their quest to secure fast access or see their customers given slower connections. Consumer groups also argue that in the absence of Net neutrality, service providers would be able to block content that competes with their own subsidiaries or affiliates.
Service providers, for their part, worry that Net neutrality rules could limit their ability to compete and find new sources of revenue, and that it could make it harder for them to manage their network traffic efficiently. In addition, individual sectors of the industry, such as cable and wireless providers, are split over how to write the rules so that their industry is not hurt.
In his Sept. 21, 2009, speech at the Brookings Institution, Genachowski said he would introduce a notice of proposed rulemaking at the FCC's October meeting. That would initiate a formal feedback process that could culminate in a new set of rules that would be based on four principles that the FCC has already been adhering to, plus two new ones.
The existing principles say that consumers should have access to their choice of Internet content, software and services; that they should be able to connect their devices to the network; and that providers should be subject to competition.
One of the new principles is that the FCC "would prevent Internet access providers from discriminating against particular Internet content or applications, while allowing for reasonable network management," Genachowski said. The second "would ensure that Internet access providers are transparent about the network management practices they implement."
Genachowski also proposed clarifying that all six principles apply to all platforms that access the Internet, including wireless networks.
"The Internet is an extraordinary platform for innovation, job creation, investment, and opportunity," Genachowski said in his speech. "It has unleashed the potential of entrepreneurs and enabled the launch and growth of small businesses across America. It is vital that we safeguard the free and open Internet."
The proposal is certain to start a vocal and well-funded debate, and there is no guarantee that Genachowski will be able to get the votes needed on the commission to approve a set of regulations that complies with President Barack Obama's promise. Members of Congress could also seek to block the regulation. Still, Genachowski's move represents a big step toward Obama's goal, so we rate this promise In the Works.
Federal Communications Commission,
on speech by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski at the Brookings Institution, Sept. 21, 2009
Julius Genachowski, prepared remarks for a speech at the Brookings Institution, Sept. 21, 2009
IDG News Service/PCWorld.com, " FCC Chairman Calls for Formal Net Neutrality Rules ," Sept. 21, 2009
New York Times, " F.C.C. Seeks to Protect Free Flow of Internet Data ," Sept. 18, 2009
Wall Street Journal, "Net-Neutrality Speech Draws Strong Reactions," Sept. 21, 2009
Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America, statement on Net neutrality, Sept. 21, 2009
CTIA–The Wireless Association, statement on Net neutrality, Sept. 21, 2009
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