updated 11:35 am EST, Wed December 1, 2010
FCC chair puts net neutrality rules to vote
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski today outlined a new set of net neutrality rules that would be put to a vote at the agency's December meeting. The rules will guarantee a "right to know" for Internet access that focuses on transparency, including a "meaningful" transparency rule that tells users and developers what would be blocked or throttled. Subscribers would also have a right to send and receive any legal Internet traffic using any safe device.
Genachowski stressed that Internet providers would have the option of managing their networks in a non-discriminatory way, including usage-based pricing. They would be expressly forbidden, however, from "unreasonable discrimination" in blocking or throttling specific types of legal data.
The proposal also ignored an attempt by Google and Verizon to exempt wireless from regulation. Cellular Internet was still at an "earlier stage," Genachowski said, but it would still require transparency and a simple no-blocking rule. FCC officials reserved the right to get involved if there were signs of anti-competitive practices, he added.
Confirming rumors, the proposal is based largely on one from House and Energy Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and is a slight step back from spring proposals that would have reclassified Internet access under some of the tougher Title II regulations and held it to a tougher standard. It had also been suggested that the reclassification would have applied to wireless, although the new proposal would still embody some of those principles.
The regulation despite its slightly milder approach may be strongly opposed by Internet providers and cellular carriers, many of which have tried to persuade the FCC to either maintain existing light regulations or to deregulate further. It may have significant repercussions for polices like those set at Verizon, where Google's search widget and other apps are actively banned from certain Android phones. Carriers may also be required to stop blocking VoIP traffic sent over 3G, though the FCC didn't say how specific its no-block rules would be.
It may also lead the FCC to take action in its investigation of the Comcast/Level 3 dispute. Although Comcast has insisted that Level 3 was simply trying to avoid typical peering relationship deals, Level 3 has alleged that the move would block video even on its usual backbone service and has framed it as a net neutrality debate. Comcast has tried to argue that it should be exempt from having to allow access to NBC video as part of its proposed merger.