FCC chair lays down groundwork for net neutrality rules

At the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC today, Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski discussed the Commission's plans for preserving net neutrality with the addition of two new tenets to the FCC's existing open Internet principles.

"Why has the Internet proved to be such a powerful engine for creativity, innovation, and economic growth?" Genachowski asked, "A big part of the answer traces back to one key decision by the Internet's original architects: to make the Internet an open system."

Both of the new policies will be focused on Internet Service Providers, a link in the chain of Internet access whose power has been the subject of debate for years. The first of the new open Internet Principles will prevent ISPs from regulating the content and applications their subscribers can access, and the second will call on ISPs to be more transparent about their traffic control systems and network management policies.

"We cannot know what tomorrow holds on the Internet, except that it will be unexpected; that the genius of American innovators is unlimited; and that the fewer obstacles these innovators face in bringing their work to the world, the greater our opportunity as citizens and as a nation," Chairman Genachowski said this morning.

"Today the free and open Internet faces emerging and substantial challenges. We've already seen some clear examples of deviations from the Internet's historic openness. We have witnessed certain broadband providers unilaterally block access to VoIP applications (phone calls delivered over data networks) and implement technical measures that degrade the performance of peer-to-peer software distributing lawful content. We have even seen at least one service provider deny users access to political content. And as many members of the Internet community and key Congressional leaders have noted, there are compelling reasons to be concerned about the future of openness."

Chairman Genachowski proposed today that the FCC adopt former Chairman Michael Powell's "Four Freedoms" (PDF here) as commission rules, and add the two new ISP-specific policies, which Genachowski referred to as "non-discrimination," and "transparency."

"The fifth principle...means [ISPs] 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."

In regards to the transparency principle, Genachowski said, "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...We cannot afford to rely on happenstance for consumers, businesses, and policymakers to learn about changes to the basic functioning of the Internet. Greater transparency will give consumers the confidence of knowing that they're getting the service they've paid for, enable innovators to make their offerings work effectively over the Internet, and allow policymakers to ensure that broadband providers are preserving the Internet as a level playing field. It will also help facilitate discussion among all the participants in the Internet ecosystem, which can reduce the need for government involvement in network management disagreements."

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