Proposed FCC net neutrality Internet regulation draws fire 

The growing debate on net neutrality heightened this week following an announcement by Federal Communications Committee Chairman Julius Genachowski supporting increased regulations on broadband carriers to preserve a "free and open" flow of Internet content.

Genachowski's comments ignited a swift response from legislators and a host of discussions across the Web.

During a speech at the Brookings Institute on Monday, Genachowski proposed additional regulations to prohibit Internet Service Providers from filtering or blocking net traffic. Specifically, the FCC may seek to prevent broadband carriers from limiting subscribers’ access to specific content or applications, as well as requiring full service transparency with consumers.

The proposed rules expand on a current framework of four regulatory principles established in 2005.

Genachowski’s announcement drew swift reaction from Republicans. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Tex., ranking GOP member on the Senate Commerce Committee, quickly attached an amendment to an unrelated appropriations bill denying the FCC any funding for “developing or implementing new Internet regulations.”

“We must tread lightly when it comes to new regulations,” said Hutchinson in a statement. “Where there have been a handful of questionable actions in the past on the part of a few companies, the commission and the marketplace have responded swiftly." Republican Sens. John Ensign, Sam Brownback, David Vitter, Jim DeMint and John Thune co-sponsored the amendment.

Last August, the FCC ruled Comcast’s throttling of peer-to-peer software was illegal, marking the first time the agency had found a broadband provider in violation of net neutrality rules.

Heavyweights carriers and bloggers alike sounded off on Monday’s announcement.

In a Sept. 21 post, Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen wrote, “It will be incredibly important for the agency to review the data to determine whether there are actual and substantial problems that may require rules.”

IntoMobile.com Editor-in-Chief Will Park supported the new rules. The “renewed push to protect Internet access and net neutrality rules is a good move,” he wrote, adding he felt the FCC is also “seeking to ensure” healthy competition in the US wireless market.
A post at the blog “Hands Off the Internet” countered, “The real issue is how the deployment of tomorrow’s Internet is paid for and how it’s brought to rural America and other underserved areas.”

Wireless carriers, too, reacted.

"We are concerned the FCC appears ready to extend the entire array of net neutrality requirements to what is perhaps the most competitive consumer market in America, wireless services," said AT&T via statement. “"We would thus be very disappointed if (the FCC) has already drawn a conclusion to regulate wireless services despite the absence of any compelling evidence of problems or abuse that would warrant government intervention.”

Genachowski closed Monday’s remarks with a call to action for neutrality supporters.

“Internet pioneers had unique insights about the power of open networks to transform lives for the better, and they did something about it,” he said.

“Our work now is to preserve the brilliance of what they contributed to our country and the world. It’s to make sure that, in the 21st century, the garage, the basement, and the dorm room remain places where innovators can not only dream but bring their dreams to life. And no one should be neutral about that.”

The FCC recently launched OpenInternet.gov to allow for public feedback. Genachowski says nothing is predetermined, and he wants to initiate a public discussion about net neutrality that is "fair, transparent, fact-based, and data-driven."

Procedural votes on the new rules are likely scheduled for October following an official proposal.

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Jonny Bonner

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