New net neutralilty rules will preserve the free internet, FCC says

22 Dec 2010

New net neutrality rules which will prohibit internet service providers (ISPs), such as Verizon or AT&T, from blocking access to content and websites have been approved by the Federal Trade Commission.

The new rules were approved in a 3-2 vote yesterday. Democrat Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps voted with chairman Julius Genachowski, while Republican Commissioners Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker voted against.

·         Under the first rule, wireless and wireline broadband providers will have to be transparent about how they manage and operate their networks.

·         Rule No 2 prevents providers blocking traffic on the internet. Fixed broadband providers cannot block lawful content and services. The same rule applies for wireless providers but is more lenient when it comes to blocking applications and services – only services that compete directly with the wireless service providers’ voice or video services can be blocked.

·         Rule No 3 prevents fixed broadband providers from unreasonably discriminating against traffic on their network.

In a statement, the FCC said the reason the internet has thrived is because of its freedom and openness and “the absence of any gatekeeper blocking lawful uses of the network or picking winners and losers online. Consumers and innovators do not have to seek permission before they use the internet to launch new technologies, start businesses, connect with friends, or share their views.

“The internet is a level playing field. Consumers can make their own choices about what applications and services to use and are free to decide what content they want to access, create, or share with others. This openness promotes competition.

“It also enables a self-reinforcing cycle of investment and innovation in which new uses of the network lead to increased adoption of broadband, which drives investment and improvements in the network itself, which in turn lead to further innovative uses of the network and further investment in content, applications, services and devices. A core goal of this order is to foster and accelerate this cycle of investment and innovation.”

However, the FCC said broadband providers have taken actions that prevent the internet’s openness by blocking or degrading disfavoured content and applications without disclosing their practices to consumers or may have financial interests in services that may compete with online content and services.

“The rules require all broadband providers to publicly disclose network management practices, restrict broadband providers from blocking internet content and applications, and bar fixed broadband providers from engaging in unreasonable discrimination in transmitting lawful network traffic,” the FCC said. The rules ensure much-needed transparency and continued internet openness, while making clear that broadband providers can effectively manage their networks and respond to market demands.”

The FCC said the new order preventing ISPs acting as gatekeepers builds on the bipartisan Internet Policy Statement the Commission adopted in 2005. “It concludes that adopting open internet protections to ensure the continued vitality of the internet is needed in light of instances of broadband providers interfering with the internet’s openness and natural incentives they face to exert gatekeeper control over internet content, applications, and services.

‘The internet as we know it is being threatened’ – Tim Berners-Lee

Genachowski, in his statement, quoted the inventor of the worldwide web Tim Berners-Lee, who warned that the internet as we know it is being threatened: “A neutral communications medium is the basis of a fair, competitive market economy, of democracy, and of science. Although the internet and web generally thrive on lack of regulation, some basic values have to be legally preserved.”

Genachowski said: “Today, for the first time, we are adopting rules to preserve basic internet values. For the first time, we’ll have enforceable rules of the road to preserve internet freedom and openness. As we stand here now, the freedom and openness of the internet are unprotected. No rules on the books to protect basic internet values.

“No process for monitoring internet openness as technology and business models evolve. No recourse for innovators, consumers, or speakers harmed by improper practices. And no predictability for internet service providers, so that they can effectively manage and invest in broadband networks. That will change once we vote to approve this strong and balanced order. The vote on this order comes after many months of debate – which has often produced more heat than light,” Genachowski said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years