Confirmed: FCC to expand net neutrality rules

Dylan Bushell-Embling
22 Sep 2009

US FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has unveiled his net neutrality plan, confirming that the new rules would also apply to wireless operators.

The proposals have already drawn fire from the operator community, with AT&T strongly objecting to the wireless provisions.

As anticipated, Genachowski has recommended adding two new principles to the FCC’s net neutrality regulatory framework.

The first would state that broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular internet content or applications. The second would require broadband providers to be transparent about their network monitoring processes.

“We've already seen some clear examples of deviations from the internet's historic openness,” Genachowski said in a speech yesterday.

“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.”

At least one service provider had denied users access to political content, he said, adding that market consolidation and soaring bandwidth consumption would continue to threaten net neutrality in the future.

The rules would apply to any form of internet access, including mobile internet, Genachowski said. “It is essential that the internet itself remain open, however users reach it. The principles I've been speaking about apply to the internet however accessed.”

The FCC currently considers four principles when considering cases, he said.

“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.”

He said the commission would investigate alleged violations of neutrality on a case-by-case basis.

AT&T said it accepted the four governing principles applied to fixed-line networks, and was open to discussion about the non-discrimination principle. But it said the rules should not apply to mobile networks, which were already under “incredible bandwidth strains” and needed continued high investment and active network management, it said.

Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, told the Wall Street Journal the company would be “very disappointed” if the FCC had already decided to regulate wireless services “despite the absence of any compelling evidence of problems or abuse that would warrant government intervention.”

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