FCC ready to act on net neutrality: chairman

FCC ready to act on net neutrality: chairman

[JURIST] The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said Monday that the FCC is "ready, willing, and able to step in if necessary" to ensure a proper balance is struck between consumer proponents of "net neutrality" principles and the telecommunication industry's interest in controlling the flow and content of Internet traffic over its networks. The issue of net neutrality [JURIST news archive] arises from concerns that broadband providers are currently free to accept money from content providers in exchange for preferential bandwidth treatment, or to interfere with the content of competitors. Monday's en banc FCC hearing was held to discuss the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008 [HR 5353 materials; Markey summary, PDF], a bill introduced [JURIST report] by US Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) earlier this month aimed at guaranteeing net neutrality.

At Monday's hearing, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin [official profile] said [PDF text]:

Network operators claim they employ "reasonable network management" in the operation of their broadband networks. The question is: what are reasonable network practices? Networks may have legitimate network management practices. Obviously network operators can take reasonable steps to manage traffic, but they cannot arbitrarily block access. This raises several issues in my mind. First, its seems important that they do so in a reasonable, open, and transparent way. consumers need to know if and how network management practices distinguish between different applications, so that consumers can configure their own applications and systems properly. And it means providing transparency to broadband consumers – in the promises to deliver increased speeds, services, and pricing. Consumers have alleged that operators are blocking or degrading consumers' access to the Internet by distinguishing between certain peer to peer applications. Consumers have alleged that these operator practices have not been transparent.

FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps also expressed willingness to take FCC action [statement, PDF] to ensure that consumers have access to a neutral Internet:

So I say we start with the following question: Do we believe in a marketplace free of unreasonable discrimination? For me, and I believe for millions of consumers, innovators and entrepreneurs the answer is easy—absolutely yes, period, full stop. This is why I keep saying that the time has come for a specific enforceable principle of non-discrimination. This principle should allow for reasonable network management, but make crystal clear that broadband network operators cannot shackle the promise of the Internet. The principle of non-discrimination is in the Markey Bill, just as it is in Title II of the Communications Act, and it needs to be added, as quickly as we can add it, to the FCC's Internet Policy Statement.

In 2006, the House Judiciary Committee approved [JURIST report] a net neutrality bill [HR 5417 materials] which would have applied federal antitrust law to alleged breaches of net neutrality, but the legislation was never approved by the full House. FTC Commissioner Deborah Platt Majoras [official profile] had opposed congressional efforts [JURIST report] to regulate net neutrality, saying that the free market will resolve the issue. The Washington Post has more. The Globe and Mail has additional coverage.