FCC comes through big on net neutrality

September 21, 2009 | By | 3 Replies More

Because the citizens keep losing out to the political clout of banks, insurance companies and other well-monied industries, it’s especially good to see the People of the United States win one against the telecoms.  The FCC came down strongly in favor of net neutrality today.  This is an incredibly important day for those of us who believe in grassroots politics and the fair and free exchange of ideas.  For those not clear on the stakes, I refer you to my earlier report on the importance of net neutrality

Image:  Public Domain

Image: Public Domain

based on Tim Wu’s explanation at the 2007 National Conference on Media Reform in Memphis.

Today, the FCC announced two new guiding principles regarding use of the Internet:

– Broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications; and

– Providers of broadband Internet access must be transparent about their network management practices.

Here are today’s words of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski:

This is how I propose we move forward: To date, the Federal Communications Commission has addressed these issues by announcing four Internet principles that guide our case-by-case enforcement of the communications laws. These principles can be summarized as: Network operators cannot prevent users from accessing the lawful Internet content, applications, and services of their choice, nor can they prohibit users from attaching non-harmful devices to the network.

The principles were initially articulated by Chairman Michael Powell in 2004 as the “Four Freedoms,” and later endorsed in a unanimous 2005 policy statement issued by the Commission under Chairman Kevin Martin and with the forceful support of Commissioner Michael Copps, who of course remains on the Commission today. In the years since 2005, the Internet has continued to evolve and the FCC has issued a number of important bipartisan decisions involving openness. Today, I propose that the FCC adopt the existing principles as Commission rules, along with two additional principles that reflect the evolution of the Internet and that are essential to ensuring its continued openness.

Fifth Principle of Non-Discrimination

The fifth principle is one of non-discrimination — stating that broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications.

This means they cannot block or degrade lawful traffic over their networks, or pick winners by favoring some content or applications over others in the connection to subscribers’ homes. Nor can they disfavor an Internet service just because it competes with a similar service offered by that broadband provider. The Internet must continue to allow users to decide what content and applications succeed.

This principle will not prevent broadband providers from reasonably managing their networks. During periods of network congestion, for example, it may be appropriate for providers to ensure that very heavy users do not crowd out everyone else. And this principle will not constrain efforts to ensure a safe, secure, and spam-free Internet experience, or to enforce the law. It is vital that illegal conduct be curtailed on the Internet. As I said in my Senate confirmation hearing, open Internet principles apply only to lawful content, services and applications — not to activities like unlawful distribution of copyrighted works, which has serious economic consequences. The enforcement of copyright and other laws and the obligations of network openness can and must co-exist.

I also recognize that there may be benefits to innovation and investment of broadband providers offering managed services in limited circumstances. These services are different than traditional broadband Internet access, and some have argued they should be analyzed under a different framework. I believe such services can supplement — but must not supplant — free and open Internet access, and that we must ensure that ample bandwidth exists for all Internet users and innovators. In the rulemaking process I will discuss in a moment, we will carefully consider how to approach the question of managed services in a way that maximizes the innovation and investment necessary for a robust and thriving Internet.

I will propose that the FCC evaluate alleged violations of the non-discrimination principle as they arise, on a case-by-case basis, recognizing that the Internet is an extraordinarily complex and dynamic system. This approach, within the framework I am proposing today, will allow the Commission to make reasoned, fact-based determinations based on the Internet before it—not based on the Internet of years past or guesses about how the Internet will evolve.

Sixth Principle of Transparency

The sixth principle is a transparency principle — stating that providers of broadband Internet access must be transparent about their network management practices.

Why does the FCC need to adopt this principle? The Internet evolved through open standards. It was conceived as a tool whose user manual would be free and available to all. But new network management practices and technologies challenge this original understanding. Today, broadband providers have the technical ability to change how the Internet works for millions of users — with profound consequences for those users and content, application, and service providers around the world.

To take one example, last year the FCC ruled on the blocking of peer-to-peer transmissions by a cable broadband provider. The blocking was initially implemented with no notice to subscribers or the public. It was discovered only after an engineer and hobbyist living in Oregon realized that his attempts to share public domain recordings of old barbershop quartet songs over a home Internet connection were being frustrated. It was not until he brought the problem to the attention of the media and Internet community, which then brought it to the attention of the FCC, that the improper network management practice became known and was stopped.

We cannot afford to rely on happenstance for consumers, businesses, and policymakers to learn about changes to the basic functioning of the Internet. Greater transparency will give consumers the confidence of knowing that they’re getting the service they’ve paid for, enable innovators to make their offerings work effectively over the Internet, and allow policymakers to ensure that broadband providers are preserving the Internet as a level playing field. It will also help facilitate discussion among all the participants in the Internet ecosystem, which can reduce the need for government involvement in network management disagreements.

To be clear, the transparency principle will not require broadband providers to disclose personal information about subscribers or information that might compromise the security of the network, and there will be a mechanism to protect competitively sensitive data.


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Category: Censorship, Communication, Community, Internet, Media, Networking, Politics, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Six Republican senators have introduced an amendment that would block the Federal Communications Commission from implementing its recently announced Net neutrality policy.

    Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison introduced the amendment to an appropriations bill. It would prevent the FCC from getting funding for any initiative to uphold Net neutrality. According to The Hill, the co-sponsors are Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA).


  2. Jay Fraz says:

    Moves like these totally foil any GOP attempt at re-branding itself as something in touch with reality. I'd be willing to bet that the politicians involved don't even understand what "net neutrality" entails, of course that good probably be stated about most politicians in every arena. Seriously though, how MUCH money do the telecoms donate to these parties, I have this strange feeling they are being had for cheap. This is a moment when the GOPosaurus image really is appropriate.

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