FCC net neutrality plan faces battle with GOP (Update)

December 1, 2010 By JOELLE TESSLER , AP Technology Writer
FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2009 file photo, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski speaks at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, Ark. Federal regulators are moving ahead with a plan to prohibit phone and cable companies from blocking or discriminating against Internet traffic flowing over their broadband networks. Genachowski will outline his proposal for so-called "network neutrality" rules in a speech on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston, File)

(AP) -- A proposal to prohibit broadband providers from blocking or discriminating against Internet traffic flowing over their networks has an uncertain future with just lukewarm support from large phone and cable service providers and fierce opposition from Republicans.

The fate of the "network neutrality" plan crafted by the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, will ultimately lie with his two fellow Democrats on the five-member commission. For now, it's unclear how they will vote when the agency considers the proposal this month.

"Today is the beginning of an important discussion, and not the end," one of those two commissioners, Michael Copps, said in a statement Wednesday. "At issue is who will control access to the online experiences of consumers - consumers themselves or Big Phone and Big Cable gatekeepers."

The proposal has won grudging support from several big phone and cable companies, including AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp., and at least a few public interest groups. But Republicans in Congress and at the FCC call it an effort to regulate the Internet.

Genachowski's widely anticipated plan, which he laid out in a speech Wednesday, is the product of months of negotiations to find middle ground in a policy dispute that pitted phone and cable giants against a number of Internet companies and public interest groups. Net neutrality rules were one of the Obama administration's top campaign pledges to the technology industry and have been among Genachowski's priorities since he took over the FCC more than a year ago.

Many big Internet companies, such as search leader Google Inc. and calling service Skype, insist regulations are needed to ensure broadband companies can't use their control over Internet connections to dictate where consumers can go and what they can do online.

They are particularly concerned that without strong net neutrality protections, phone and cable companies could slow or block online phone calls, Web video and other Internet services that compete with their core businesses.

Internet companies and public interest groups also want regulations to prevent broadband providers from favoring their own online traffic or traffic from business partners that can pay to take priority over other online services.

But Genachowski has faced strong resistance from phone and cable giants, which insist they need flexibility to manage network traffic so that high-bandwidth applications - such as online video - don't hog capacity and slow down their networks.

The communications companies also argue that after spending billions to upgrade their lines for broadband, they need to be able earn a healthy return by offering premium high-speed services. They warn that burdensome regulations would discourage them from continuing to invest in their systems.

Genachowski's plan, which builds on a set of FCC principles established under the previous administration in 2005, would require that broadband providers let subscribers access all legal online content, applications and services over their wired networks. But it contains several key concessions to the phone and cable companies.

For one thing, it would give broadband providers flexibility to manage their systems to deal with problems such as network congestion and unwanted traffic including spam as long as they publicly disclose their network management practices.

The proposal would give wireless carriers even more leeway to manage data traffic, since wireless systems have more bandwidth constraints than wired networks. It would, however, prohibit wireless carriers from blocking access to any websites or competing applications such as Internet calling services on mobile devices, and would also require the carriers to disclose their network management practices.

In addition, the proposal would let broadband providers experiment with routing traffic from specialized services such as smart energy grids and home security systems over dedicated networks, as long as the practice doesn't slow down the public Internet.

The proposal drew cautious praise from AT&T, which said, "The FCC appears to be embracing a compromise solution that is sensitive to the dynamics of investment in a difficult economy and appears to avoid over-regulation."

Comcast, too, said the plan "strikes a workable balance between the needs of the marketplace and the certainty that carefully-crafted and limited rules can provide to ensure that Internet freedom and openness are preserved."

Reaction among public interest groups was more mixed. Although several said they could support the proposal, one key group, Free Press, denounced it as "fake" net neutrality that would provide less protection for wireless consumers at a time when more Americans are going online using mobile devices. Free Press also said allowing dedicated networks for certain services could lead to a two-tiered Internet with a fast lane for companies that can pay for priority and a slow lane for everyone else.

In one other key concession to the phone and cable companies, Genachowski's proposal would leave in place the FCC's current regulatory framework for broadband, which treats broadband as a lightly regulated "information service."

The agency has been trying to come up with a new framework since a federal appeals court in April ruled that the FCC had overstepped its existing authority in sanctioning Comcast for discriminating against Internet file-sharing traffic on its network. Comcast's behavior violated the very net neutrality principles that Genachowski now hopes to adopt as formal rules.

To ensure that the commission would be on solid legal ground in adopting net neutrality rules and other broadband regulations following that decision, Genachowski had proposed redefining broadband as a telecommunications service subject to "common carrier" obligations to treat all traffic equally. But that effort triggered a fierce backlash from the phone and cable companies, as well as from many Republicans in Congress, prompting Genachowski to back down.

His new plan is based in large part on a proposal that Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the outgoing chairman of the House Commerce Committee, unsuccessfully tried to push in Congress several months ago. Waxman, too, ran into opposition from Republicans who say net neutrality rules amount to unnecessary regulation.

Republicans went on the attack again Wednesday against Genachowski's latest proposal. Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker, the two Republicans on the FCC, said they could not support the proposal. McDowell said Genachowski's effort "to adopt sweeping regulations of Internet network management" is an "ill-advised maneuver."

And two top Republicans on the House Commerce Committee, Joe Barton of Texas and Cliff Stearns of Florida, sent a letter to the FCC chairman asking him to explain where the agency gets authority to mandate net neutrality.

With Republicans set to take over the House next year, Genachowski is certain to face even more resistance in the next Congress, adding to pressure on the chairman to get his plan through the FCC this month.

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1 / 5 (1) Dec 01, 2010
The whole idea against network neutrality is to charge the small guy more for high usage and to slow down their service so the fat cats can have superior Internet access.

Should not companies who use the service the most have to pay more for services rendered?

Why should drivers in small cars pull over to let the truckers pass?
5 / 5 (1) Dec 01, 2010
Comcast just started charging "TOLLS" to video distributers like netflix to guarantee they wont have network congestion even if the network is congested, this is done at the expense of any other traffic that hasnt paid for priority. why are isp's entitled to anymore money based on the content of the data going over their network? why should they be able to distinguish between them in the first place. its equivalent to a wiretap by the cable company without any need for legal involvement and done to EVERY USER. ISP's need to be told that they cant continue their current gatekeeper practices and then be regulated solely to unbiased data delivery. anything else should be considered violation of privacy on the isp's part.

I have a 20/2 connection, netflix never uses more than that, for what reason should an isp charge more to netflix for using the bandwidth they already sold me.
3 / 5 (2) Dec 01, 2010
Quoted from http://www.thewra...es-22876 "Comcast is the biggest supplier of broadband Internet services in the U.S. and is seeking to build its own online/on-demand movie and TV-show service, which it calls Xfinity."

ISP and content providers need to be required by law to be seperate. antitrust laws need to be revised for this case, hopefully Julius Genachowski will fight til the end for us and not be swayed by big corporations to compromise our right to an open internet built on net neutrality.
not rated yet Dec 01, 2010
Have you tried your 'rabbit ears' recently?
Well, the FCC killed the no cost, over-the-air broadcast industry. I (like most of us) now must pay to see that same content (yes, it is pretty worthless content) whether we watch it or not.

The FCC has made it so we must pay to use the television set. They missed their opportunity to make the Internet the replacement for the airwaves a long time ago. Yes, broadcast was limited compared to cable. Now, cable has no competition except other cable/satellite companies.

The cable companies are selling time (paid programming) as content. In effect the cable company is getting paid by the content provider to send us paid programming as content which we must pay for.

Bottom line: if the FCC can change this corporate raid on our wallets then I'll write a letter to the Chairman begging his forgiveness for belittling the FCC.
not rated yet Dec 01, 2010
@Bob B
The 8VSB modulation scheme adopted by the industry is more the culprit.
5 / 5 (1) Dec 01, 2010
If they don't allow you to use the bandwidth you're paying for, they need to be fined for false advertising.
not rated yet Dec 01, 2010
If they don't allow you to use the bandwidth you're paying for, they need to be fined for false advertising.

Good idea. The more of those kinds of ideas we can gather, then ISPs will not be able to afford the lawsuits.
not rated yet Dec 02, 2010
The Net Neutrality that I seek is where all users are treated the same. Sort of like unlimited calling, though people could choose pay-per-use versus unlimited service.
Businesses that use more bandwidth that wish to have faster service should pay more.

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