We knew it was going to happen, but we’re still stoked to report that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski formally proposed a set of net neutrality rules this morning, calling them “the fair rules of the road for companies that control access to the internet.” There are two big new rules, which say broadband providers of any kind can’t discriminate against content or applications, and must be transparent about their network management policies — a big change for wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T, who would have to open their networks to scrutiny, and a direct response to Comcast’s secretive packet-filtering techniques.
What’s more, Genachowski also proposed that four existing agency policies be granted formal rule status, meaning network operators would be required to allow users to access the content, apps, and services of their choice, and they would also be required to allow any “non-harmful” devices to connect to their networks. We knew all that open-access hullabaloo was leading up to something good.
All told, these are some big policy changes, and while we’re excited that the FCC is this gung-ho about net neutrality — seriously, Genachowski comes off as the best kind of fanboy in his followup HuffPo editorial, it’s kind of awesome — we’re still only cautiously optimistic, since the rulemaking process has only just begun and there are some potentially huge loopholes for network management and prevention of copyright infringement. But those are details to be worked out — for now, the real news is that net neutrality is on its way to becoming the law of the land, and that’s enough to warm even our darkened robot hearts. Check a video of Jules after the break.
The Open Internet: Preserving the Freedom to Innovate
The Internet is the most transformational communications breakthrough of our time. It has become essential to the fabric of the daily lives of Americans.
More and more, the Internet is how we get news, information, and entertainment; how we stay in touch with our friends and family; how we work and start new businesses; how we — and people across the globe — learn about our communities and express points of view.
The Internet has also been an extraordinary platform for innovation, job creation, economic growth, and opportunity. It has unleashed the potential of entrepreneurs and enabled the launch and growth of small businesses across America.
The key to the Internet’s success has been its openness.
The Internet was designed to be “future-proof” — to support ideas, products, and services that today’s inventors have not yet imagined. In practice, it doesn’t favor or disfavor any particular content or application, but allows end users, content creators, and businesses of every size and in every sector of the economy to communicate and innovate without permission.
Notwithstanding its unparalleled record of success, today the free and open Internet faces emerging and substantial challenges.
We’ve already seen some clear examples of deviations from the Internet’s historic openness. We have witnessed certain broadband providers unilaterally block access to VoIP applications and implement technical measures that degrade the performance of peer-to-peer software distributing lawful content. We have even seen one service provider deny users access to political content.
And as many members of the Internet community and key Congressional leaders have noted, there are compelling reasons for concern about even greater challenges to openness in the future, including reduced choice in the Internet service provider marketplace and an increase in the amount of Internet traffic, which has fueled a corresponding need to manage networks sensibly.
The rise of serious challenges to the traditional operation of the Internet puts us at a crossroads. We could see technology used to shut doors to entrepreneurs instead of opening them. The spirit of innovation stifled. A full and free flow of information compromised.
Or we could take steps to preserve a free and open Internet, helping to ensure a future of opportunity, prosperity, and the vibrant flow of information and ideas.
I believe we must choose to safeguard the openness that has made the Internet a stunning success. That is why today, I delivered a speech announcing that the FCC will be the smart cop on the beat when it comes to preserving a free and open Internet.
In particular, I proposed that the FCC adopt two new rules to help achieve this.
The first says broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications. The second says broadband providers must be transparent about their network management practices. These principles would apply to the Internet however it is accessed, though how they apply may differ depending on the access platform or technology used. Of course, network operators will be permitted to implement reasonable network management practices to address issues such as spam, address copyright infringement, and otherwise ensure a safe and secure network for all users.
I also proposed that the FCC formally enshrine the four pre-existing agency policies that say 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.
This is just the first step in what will be an ongoing process. While these goals are clear, the best path to achieving them is not, and involves many hard questions about how best to maximize the innovation and investment necessary for a robust and thriving Internet. That is why we have created www.OpenInternet.gov.
This site is a place to join the discussion about the free and open Internet. OpenInternet.gov is in Beta, and we’ll be adding features to enable participation in the near future. I encourage you to check it out to offer your input, or simply to read or watch today’s speech.
With the help of all stakeholders, the FCC can help secure a bright future for the Internet, and make sure that the garage, the basement, and the dorm room remain places where inventors can not only dream, but bring their ideas to life.
And no one should be neutral about that.
FCC chairman says `open Internet’ rules are vital
NEW YORK — Wireless carriers shouldn’t be allowed to block certain types of Internet traffic flowing over their networks, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission chairman said Monday in a speech that drew a cool response from the industry.
Unless it could be done carefully, the plan risks stifling investment in Internet access, telecommunications executives said. Their sentiments were echoed by Republicans in Washington, who questioned whether the FCC was on the verge of making unprecedented steps to regulate the Internet.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said wireless carriers should be subject to the same “open Internet” principles that the agency has begun to apply to home broadband providers. That may mean that a carrier couldn’t, for example, ban the use of file-sharing services on its wireless network, which AT&T Inc. does now.
The government also has been investigating Apple Inc.’s process for approving programs for its iPhones, but Genachowski isn’t directly addressing manufacturers’ right to determine which applications run on their devices.
Essentially, Genachowski wants to codify the principles the FCC has already been applying to wired Internet traffic — and extend them to wireless.
But it’s unclear how the principles would apply in practice. The proposal is the starting point for a process to hammer out detailed rules in the coming months. Genachowski left the door open to treating wireless networks differently than wired networks in the final regulations, even though the same broad principles will be applied to both technologies.
Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s top executive in Washington, said the company would be “very disappointed” if the FCC has already concluded that it needs to “regulate wireless services despite the absence of any compelling evidence of problems or abuse.”
Last year, the FCC sanctioned Comcast Corp. for secretly hampering file-sharing traffic by its cable-modem subscribers. In that ruling, the agency relied on broad “principles” of open Internet access that hadn’t previously been put to the test. The cable company filed suit, saying the FCC didn’t have the authority to tell it how to run its network. The case is still in federal appeals court.
Genachowski is now proposing to make it a formal rule that Internet carriers cannot discriminate against certain types of traffic by degrading service. That expands on the principle that they cannot “block” traffic, as articulated in a 2005 policy statement.
Internet service providers, both wired and wireless, are struggling with the question of how to distribute network capacity among their subscribers. Heavy users can overwhelm cellular towers and neighborhood cable circuits, slowing traffic for everyone.
At the same time, consumer advocates and Web companies like Google Inc. want to safeguard what has been an underlying “Net neutrality” assumption of the Internet: that all types of data are treated equally. If the carriers can degrade or block traffic, they become the gatekeepers of the Internet, able to shut out innovation, these critics say.
Comcast has already changed its system to one that does not look at what types of traffic subscribers are using. Instead, it throttles back the speed of heavy users if there is congestion on the network. However, there are other companies that might fall afoul of the new principle. Cox Communications, another cable company, has been testing a system that slows traffic that it deems less time-sensitive, like file downloads and software updates, to keep Web pages, streaming video and online games working faster. Cox declined to comment.
In his webcast speech Monday at the Brookings Institute in Washington, the FCC chairman also proposed to make it a formal rule that Internet service providers have to tell customers about how they manage traffic to handle congestion. Some companies might be managing traffic in subtle ways without notifying customers.
David Young, vice president of federal regulatory affairs at Verizon Communications Inc., said he was pleased that Genachowski said he favored a light touch in setting up the new regulatory framework. If Internet carriers aren’t free to experiment with different ways of treating traffic, development of the technology might be slowed, Young said.
“The concern is that it will stifle innovation, investment and growth,” he said. “To dramatically change the 15-year policy of the United States government to not regulate the Internet is a pretty radical thing and should be driven by a very real and present need to do so.”
David Cohen, executive vice president at Comcast, said he welcomed the “dialogue” suggested by the FCC chairman, but also said it would be important to first figure out if there are “actual and substantial problems that may require rules.”
President Barack Obama, who appointed Genachowski to the FCC, made campaign promises to support Net neutrality. He applauded Genachowski’s proposal in a speech Monday in Troy, N.Y., saying well-crafted regulation of the Internet would encourage investment and innovation.
The other two Democratic commissioners on the five-seat FCC said Monday they supported the proposal, which will give Genachowski a majority to push through the proposal. The two Republican commissioners, Robert McDowell and Meredith Baker, urged caution, suggesting that new regulations not be based on a need to “alleviate the political pressures of the day.”
Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas sought to stop the proposal outright, introducing an amendment to an appropriations bill that would deny the FCC the funding to explore and develop new regulatory mandates. It was cosponsored by five Republicans.
“The case has simply not been made for what amounts to a significant regulatory intervention into a vibrant marketplace,” Hutchison said in a statement.
Ben Scott, policy director at advocacy group Free Press, which complained to the FCC about Comcast’s old network management practices in 2007, said the Internet is now of such importance that government will have to take a role in making sure it works optimally.
“It is inevitably going to have a regulatory structure around it,” Scott said. “… What we’re deciding is: What is it going to look like?”
Mobile providers have argued that US proposals to ensure that all traffic on the internet is treated equally should not be applied to wireless traffic.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants rules to prevent providers blocking or slowing down bandwidth-heavy usage such as streaming video.
Providers claim a two-tiered system is essential for the future vitality of the net.
Mobile operators said any regulation would damage innovation.
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said doing nothing was not an option.
In his first major speech since his appointment earlier in the summer, he told an audience in Washington that the rules were “not about government regulation of the internet”.
“History’s lesson is clear. Ensuring a robust and open internet is the best thing we can do to promote investment and innovation,” he told the audience at Washington think tank the Brookings Institution.
“And while there are some who see every policy decision as either pro-business or pro-consumer, I reject that approach; it’s not the right way to see technology’s role in America.”
The FCC’s proposals are meant to ensure that internet service providers cannot block or slow down traffic, such as bandwidth-hogging video downloads. Operators must also be transparent about network management, it said.
But providers have argued that a two-tiered internet is essential to effectively manage their networks.
Almost as soon as Mr Genachowski stepped off the podium, industry critics condemned the inclusion of wireless traffic in the new policy proposals.
The FCC says the internet is at a crossroads
“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’s Jim Cicconi.
“The internet in America has been a phenomenal success that has spawned technological and business innovation unmatched anywhere else in the world,” said David Cohen, executive vice-president at Comcast.
“So it’s still fair to ask whether increased regulation of the internet is a solution in search of a problem.”
Verizon, the nation’s biggest cellphone operator, said it believed the FCC had no reason to impose “a new set of regulations that will limit customer choices and affect content providers, application developers, device manufacturers and network builders”.
Politicians also weighed in on the proposals.
Six Republican senators introduced a measure that would cut the FCC’s funding to “develop and implement new regulatory mandates”.
Meanwhile, the two Republicans on the FCC’s board said they were not convinced that there were widespread problems of internet providers blocking or slowing traffic that needed to be addressed with new rules.
However, just as many supporters as critics stood up to praise the FCC’s move.
Touch screens are changing the way people use mobiles
The FCC “took an important step in… ensuring that the internet remains a platform for innovation, economic growth, and free expression”, wrote Google internet evangelist Vint Cerf, on a company blog.
Consumer groups saw the move as a victory.
“This is a tremendous day for millions of us who have been clamouring to keep the internet free from discrimination,” said John Silver, executive director of advocacy group Free Press.
Mr Genachowski said the increasing number of people who went online using their mobile phones could not be ignored.
“The revolution in wireless technologies and the creation of path-breaking devices like the Blackberry and iPhone have enabled millions of us to carry the internet in our pockets and purses.”
Gigi Sohn of digital rights group Public Knowledge told BBC News the move was necessary given that “wireless is the next frontier and where the great growth of internet access is going to come from”.
Mr Genachowski said he wants as much feedback from consumers, the industry and others on the proposals.
“This is about fair rules of the road for companies that control access to the internet,” said the FCC chairman.