FCC votes to reconsider broadband regulations (Update 2)

Jun 17, 2010
A Friday, March 12, 2010 file photo shows FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in his office in Washington. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, has proposed to define broadband access as a telecommunications service subject to "common carrier" obligations to treat all traffic equally. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin/file)

(AP) -- Federal regulators are reconsidering the rules that govern high-speed Internet connections - wading into a bitter policy dispute that could be tied up in court for years.

Over the objections of the agency's two Republican commissioners, the Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to begin taking public comments on three different paths for regulating broadband. That includes a proposal by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, a Democrat, to define broadband access as a telecommunications service subject to "common carrier" obligations to treat all traffic equally.

Genachowski's proposal is a response to a federal appeals court ruling that cast doubt on the agency's authority over broadband under its existing regulatory framework.

The chairman's plan has the backing of many big Internet companies, which say it would ensure the FCC can prevent phone and cable companies from using their control over broadband connections to determine what subscribers can do online.

"There is a real urgency to this because right now there are no rules of the road to protect consumers from even the most egregious discriminatory behavior by telephone and cable companies," said Markham Erickson, executive director of the Open Internet Coalition. The group's members include Google Inc., eBay Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and online calling service Skype Ltd.

Genachowski's plan faces resistance from the broadband providers themselves, including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. They say it opens the door to onerous and outdated regulations that would discourage them from upgrading their networks.

"This FCC proposal could call into question the business assumptions underlying multibillion-dollar broadband investments," said Howard Waltzman, a former Republican staffer on the House Commerce Committee who is representing telephone companies as a partner with Mayer Brown LLP.

Many Republicans and even some Democrats on Capitol Hill also oppose Genachowski's plan. At least one House Republican, Rep. John Culberson of Texas, has proposed blocking funding for the FCC if it pursues the plan.

The FCC currently defines broadband as a lightly regulated information service. But in April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that this approach does not give the commission the authority it needs to proceed with Genachowski's plan to adopt so-called "network neutrality" mandates, which would bar broadband providers from favoring or discriminating against traffic traveling over their networks.

Supporters of network neutrality, including many big Web companies, say such rules are necessary to prevent phone and cable companies from blocking or degrading online calling services, Internet video and other applications that compete with their core businesses.

Indeed, the recent appeals court decision grew out of a challenge by Comcast Corp. to a 2008 FCC order directing the cable company to stop blocking subscribers from accessing an online file-sharing service used to trade video and other big files.

Comcast and other broadband providers insist they need flexibility to manage their networks and ensure that certain applications don't hog too much bandwidth. They also fear that net neutrality mandates would prevent them from offering premium services over their networks to earn a healthy return on their investments.

The court ruling also potentially undermines the FCC's ability to act on several key recommendations in its national broadband plan, another top priority for Genachowski. That includes a proposal to expand high-speed Internet access by tapping the Universal Service Fund, the federal program that subsidizes phone service in poor and rural areas.

Genachowski says his new regulatory framework would let the FCC move ahead on both fronts by placing broadband connections firmly within the agency's jurisdiction as a telecommunications service. At the same time, he has pledged to impose only narrow telecom rules on broadband providers, avoiding burdensome mandates such as rate regulations and network-sharing obligations. He has stressed that his approach would not impose regulations on Internet content and services.

Genachowski said Thursday that his plan rejects "both the extreme of applying extensive regulation to broadband and ... the extreme of eliminating FCC oversight of broadband." He said he seeks to restore "the status quo light-touch framework that existed prior to the court case."

Thursday's 3-to-2 vote launches a proceeding to examine:

-Genachowski's proposal

-the implications of leaving the existing regulatory framework in place;

-and the implications of imposing the full array of traditional telecommunications regulations on broadband providers.

If the FCC ultimately adopts Genachowski's plan, it will almost certainly draw legal challenges from phone and cable companies that don't want an end to the current deregulatory approach. That was adopted under the Bush administration and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005. A battle over any attempt to overturn it could go back to the high court.

Meredith Baker, one of the two Republican commissioners on the FCC, insisted Thursday that the agency has ample authority under the existing regulatory framework to pursue key priorities, including reforming the Universal Service Fund to subsidize high-speed Internet connections.

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User comments : 15

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El_Nose
not rated yet Jun 17, 2010
let the net nuetrality debate begin...
ricarguy
1 / 5 (2) Jun 17, 2010
"placing broadband connections firmly within the agency's jurisdiction"
Can you say, "control"?

"...by tapping the federal program that subsidizes phone service in poor and rural areas."
Can you say, "taxes"?
ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (1) Jun 17, 2010
"Comcast and other broadband providers insist they need flexibility to manage their networks and ensure that certain applications don't hog too much bandwidth. They also fear that net neutrality mandates would prevent them from offering premium services over their networks to earn a healthy return on their investments."

What a load of rubbish. Providers should not know what application are their customers using, and they do not need this knowledge to regulate bandwidth. They are already free to offer premium services, they just dont want YOU to use premium services of other companies.

Net neutrality for the win!
winthrom
not rated yet Jun 17, 2010
We all pay a fee on telephone service that subsidizes rural telephone service as part of our telephone bills. Can you say "equity" instead of "taxes". There was a guy, a while back, that got quite a following because he had this idea that people should treat each other as they want themselves to be treated, especially the least among us. Sharing the load is not a criminal act, it is humane. If that does not suit you, read about the robber barrons of the 1890s, and see if you like that instead. Comcast is intent on being a modern robber barron. Net neutrality is the cure for this disease.
Skultch
not rated yet Jun 22, 2010
There is nothing wrong with Comcast or any other ISP seeing what types of traffic run through their networks. All they have to see is an IP address and port number and they can tell what you are doing. It's beyond easy and without that information, they could not provide service of any kind. Learn how to use a proxy or VPN if you care.

On a different note, rural tourist areas have limited bandwidth available and should be allowed to limit Bittorrent and other illegal activity. People don't need to be downloading movies while they are on vacation. Without limiting file sharing protocols, high speed internet in some areas would be unusable. Large ISPs hog all the bandwidth available, and if they are not considered a telephone company (AT&T, Qwest, etc) they don't have to resell it to smaller ISPs.

There is a world outside the city. Visit it.
ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (1) Jun 24, 2010
"On a different note, rural tourist areas have limited bandwidth available and should be allowed to limit Bittorrent and other illegal activity. People don't need to be downloading movies while they are on vacation."

No, they should not limit what you do on the internet. Providers should be able to limit your bandwidth or transmitted data, but not how you use your share. That is what net neutrality means, and it is very important in this internet age to uphold it.
Skultch
not rated yet Jul 02, 2010
"On a different note, rural tourist areas have limited bandwidth available and should be allowed to limit Bittorrent and other illegal activity. People don't need to be downloading movies while they are on vacation."

No, they should not limit what you do on the internet. Providers should be able to limit your bandwidth or transmitted data, but not how you use your share. That is what net neutrality means, and it is very important in this internet age to uphold it.


Ok. I guess I'll go buy my share of bullets and do with them as I please. Who cares if people are affected by my stray bullets?

Newsflash: Bandwidth is not unlimited. It is not wrong to limit one person's illegal activity for the just benefit of another.

I guess no one wants to remember when every phone call made had to be manually switched by a live person. If you want neutrality and privacy, learn how to use a VPN.
ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (1) Jul 03, 2010


I will repeat it one more time, because you do not seem to understand bandwidth issues at all - internet providers can ALREADY control how much bandwidth their users use! They just want more - to control what their users use their share for. We cannot let this happen, it could be the end of a relatively free internet as we know it. They want to limit you - not pirates, because pirates are already limited through speed and data caps. You will not benefit from this at all, it will only make things worse - how would you like to pay a dollar every time you visit physorg.com? Because if internet neutrality legislation fails, that could very well happen!
ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (1) Jul 03, 2010
We already have laws against illegal internet activity, covering everything from child porn through hate crimes to piracy.
The problem with internet providers is that they want to have the right to choose what their customers can and what they cannot do on the internet!! This stupidity is what cannot be allowed. Only a judges decision should be able to limit free internet!

Here, educate yourself so you dont spread IPs propaganda around..
http://en.wikiped...utrality
ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (1) Jul 03, 2010
To make a nice analogy to illustrate my point, it would be like a water company allowing you to use its water only on cleaning the dishes, but not on wiping the floor. A water (IP) company should be only interested in how much water (bandwidth, data) you use, and not in what you use it for!

That is what internet neutrality means, to outlaw this behaviour. And it is very important in current internet age to pass this law!!
ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (1) Jul 04, 2010
http://www.saveth...uestions

Enlightening reading about ongoing fight to save the internet freedom some of us currently take for granted. It may not be so for long, if internet neutrality legislation fails..
Skultch
not rated yet Jul 16, 2010
I was and am under no illusions as to what ISPs are trying to do. I work for a small one. I'm merely saying that non-metered internet is a privilege, not a right, as you seem to assume. Throttling based on content is one thing, but throttling based on transmission method is something completely different, and should be allowed.
ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (1) Jul 17, 2010
What exactly does throttling based on transmission method mean?

I dont see any reason why ISPs should be allowed to throttle based on anything other than quantity of data transmited, and it is a very slippery slope to allow them to. Speed and data caps are completely sufficient to regulate bandwidth. But that would mean that ISPs would have to stop lying to their customers about unlimited internet, when the internet is in fact limited because they cannot download on full speed 24/7.

Tell me one good reason why would ISPs need to throttle based on anything other than speed and amount of data, besides the ability to harass their customers.
Skultch
not rated yet Jul 17, 2010
There is no financial benefit in simple harassment. The net neutrality issue got charged recently because Comcast (ISP) bought NBC (a content provider). They might want to throttle traffic to and from an ABC site. That would be wrong wrong wrong and I actually think a consumer backlash would ensue.

An example of throttling based on transmission method would be an ISP only allowing 20% of it's bandwidth to be used by bittorrent protocols during peak time. It's 100% anonymous, affects everyone equally, and relatively harm free to legal bandwidth users given most of that type of traffic is used to share copyrighted media.

I have to use a satellite ISP. I can only download a certain amount of data per month because bird time is expensive. In rural areas with terrestrial ISPs there is also limited bandwidth. If those ISPs allowed all illegal activity, legitimate traffic would suffer.
ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (1) Jul 17, 2010
Not all bit-torrent bandwidth is used for illegal activity, and it is not ISPs job to fight illegal activity, thats what police is for. If the people want to use their bandwidth which they payed for on bittorrent, than the ISP has to accept that.

An ISP can lower the speed for those people who download too much, and it is irrelevant if they use bittorent or something else. An ISP can therefore ensure that all the people will have some basic bandwidth guaranteed just by speed and data caps. It worked well until now, and there is no need to change it other than to rip off the customers or spread lies about unlimited internet that is unlimited until you actualy start to use it for something other than the web.

All the trafic that a customer uses is legitimate, it is not an ISPs job to decide what is legitimate and what is not.

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