And so the battle begins. The broadband policy the federal government intends to formulate and adopt almost certainly must touch on network neutrality and network management practices, and participants in the discussion are already taking stands to support the effort, defeat it or modify it to their benefit.
The maneuvering started in earnest last week, with a key House committee signaling its intent to pass a broadband bill, and continues today with an address by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski at the Brookings Institute.
Genachowski’s prepared text opens with a long passage praising the openness of the Internet, but then notes that violations of that openness continue to occur. Those violations are the result of limited competition, the incentive for service providers to protect their businesses in ways that do not benefit consumers, and the difficulty of handling the rapidly increasing amount of traffic on the Internet.
The FCC’s job, Genachowski says, is to make sure the Internet remains an open and innovative forum. The way to accomplish that is to hew to principles first proposed by former FCC Chairman Michael Powell, which Genachowski summarized thusly: “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.”
Genachowski said he’d like to expand that with two more principles: 1) non-discrimination – broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications, and 2) transparency – providers of broadband Internet access must be transparent about their network management practices.
Though Genachowski did not mention Comcast by name, he made it clear that latter principle was devised as a direct result of Comcast’s former peer-to-peer network management practices.
Broadband policy, Genachowski’s text reads, “is not about government regulation of the Internet. It’s about fair rules of the road for companies that control access to the Internet.”
The American Cable Association was generally supportive of the FCC’s new direction, but reminded there are two sides of the equation – access providers and content owners, which can also abuse the system by restricting access.
Some regulators, said American Cable Association President and CEO Matthew Polka, “have been missing the far greater threat to the `open Internet’ ideal, which is how media conglomerates and Web giants are using their leverage to assure themselves preferential treatment on the networks of Internet service providers at the expense of other Web-based services, applications and consumers.”
Right-wing think-tank Competitive Enterprise Institute issued a statement filled with colorful language warning the FCC about the perils of meddling in private enterprise.
CEI’s vice president of policy Wayne Crews posited that the very notion of network neutrality “is an anti-competitive, pro-bureaucratic construction,” and that “the so-called "principle" of regulated non-discrimination is an incoherent abhorrence.”
As part of Chairman Genachowski’s commitment to openness and transparency, the FCC launched a new Web site to encourage public participation.