Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The impact of FCC on Net Neutrality

By Chris Albrecht on Legal

FCC Chair Julius Genachowski delivered a speech this morning about the importance of net neutrality and an open internet. Stacey over at GigaOM has a great recap of the news, and you can read the full text of the speech here. As we are about to embark a whole new world of over-the-top video, anyone who cares about expanding their video choices via the Internet should pay attention to what the Genachowski wants to do.

There were three key takeaways from Genachowski’s speech: first, he expanded the number of FCC network neutrality principles to six from four, and second, he kicked off the process to turn these principles into actual rules, and third, he said he would make all of these principals effective for wireless and wired networks. Here are some key excerpts from his speech (emphasis ours):

The fifth principle is one of non-discrimination — stating that broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications. This means they 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. Nor can they disfavor an Internet service just because it competes with a similar service offered by that broadband provider. The Internet must continue to allow users to decide what content and applications succeed.

This becomes more important now that a company like Comcast, which provides both internet and cable TV services faces video competition from the likes of Netflix, Apple, Amazon and others piping in movies and TV programming directly to your TV using your Comcast-provided data connection (and potentially getting you to cut your cord). And those alternative choices will also be taking up more bandwidth as HD streaming becomes a mainstream activity.

Now that the federal rule limiting how much of the U.S. population a single cable company can serve is lifted, the door is open for cable cos to get bigger and more influential over your access.

This fifth principle tackles more than just who can deliver video to your TV, but the ways in which it can be delivered. In Genachowski’s world, P2P, a technology that cable companies have fought tooth and nail against, wouldn’t be a dirty word, which leads to the sixth principle.

The sixth principle is a transparency principle — stating that providers of broadband Internet access must be transparent about their network management practices. Why does the FCC need to adopt this principle? The Internet evolved through open standards. It was conceived as a tool whose user manual would be free and available to all. But new network management practices and technologies challenge this original understanding. Today, broadband providers have the technical ability to change how the Internet works for millions of users — with profound consequences for those users and content, application, and service providers around the world.

Transparency has been an issue with companies like Comcast (again) in particular, which denied that it was managing its network only to later admit that it was indeed interfering with P2P traffic.

Genachowski’s principles are all well and good, but whether or not the FCC has any teeth to enforce these grand ideals remains to be seen. Comcast has already sued the Commission, questioning the FCC’s right to enforce any net neutrality principles. The FCC filed its opposition brief in response to that suit today.

To back up his bark with some bite, Genachowski has kicked off the process to turn some of these principles into rules. Once he has the support of the Commission in issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking, the proposed rules will be open for feedback and input. To help facilitate that discussion, the FCC today launched the new web site openinternet.gov.

No comments: