This morning, the Federal Communications Commission voted to consider Chariman Julius Genachowski's proposed net neutrality rules. This means the two rules will be opened for public comment before finalized through an FCC vote.
Genachowski publicly announced his new rules at a speech last month at the Brookings Institution. They are:
- Preventing Internet access providers from discriminating against particular Internet content or applications, while allowing for reasonable network management.
- Ensuring that Internet access providers are transparent about the network management practices they implement.
Google has long been a proponent of Net Neutrality. Reacting on the Official Google Public Policy blog, Google's Washington Telecom and Media Counsel, Richard Whitt, wrote:
There's been a lot of noise out there, but let's review what's at stake: The Internet was built and has thrived as an open platform, where individuals and entrepreneurs -- not network owners -- can connect and interact, choose marketplace winners and losers, and create new services and content on a level playing field. No one seems to disagree with that fundamental proposition. This new proceeding is aimed at opening a national dialogue on how best to protect that unique environment. For our part, we fully support the adoption of "rules of the road" to ensure that the broadband on-ramps to the Net remain open and robust.
But not everyone sees the need to fix what's not broken. Per a Washington Post editorial:
Mr. Genachowski claims to have seen "breaks and cracks" in the Internet that threaten to change the "fundamental architecture of openness." He and other proponents of federal involvement cite a handful of cases they say prove that, left to their own devices, ISPs such as Comcast Corp. and AT&T will choke the free flow of information and technology. One example alluded to by the chairman: Comcast's blocking an application by BitTorrent that would allow peer-to-peer video sharing. Yet that conflict was ultimately resolved by the two companies -- without FCC intervention -- after Comcast's alleged bad behavior was exposed by a blogger.
The Post also pointed out that net neutrality amounts to controlling networks that private companies have built:
Aptly dubbed an "immodest proposal" by the Free State Foundation's Randolph J. May, the FCC would prohibit ISPs from "discriminating against" different applications. Mr. Genachowski explains it this way: ISPs "cannot block or degrade lawful traffic over their networks, or pick winners by favoring some content or applications over others in the connection to subscribers' homes." In short, ISPs, which have poured billions of dollars into building infrastructure, would have little control -- if any -- over the kinds of information and technology flowing through their pipes.
The Post ended their editorial by questioning how much the ISPs will innovate if they are burdened with additional regulation.
Incidentally, Google has what should be an obvious stake in net neutrality regulation. The use of their search engine and various other products depends on internet users being able to access their services on the networks they're using.
Of course, plans for tiered Internet pricing are not very popular, rejected by consumers. And, like the Post pointed out, companies often reverse course whenever they're tempted to go in that direction because the public outcry isn't worth it.
It's a hot debate and if you play nice, you can have it in the comments below.