FCC Chairman Plans to Proffer Network Neutrality

WASHINGTON: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski is making the opening volley of his nationwide broadband plan a doozey. The chairman intends to codify network neutrality, by which Internet service providers are prohibited from constraining bandwidth or blocking certain content. He intends to start with the commission’s existing “Four Freedoms,” a set of voluntary principles developed by former FCC Chairman Michael Powell in 2004. The issue was so contentious during the 2006 telecom reform debate on Capital Hill that it brought the pending legislation to a screeching halt.

“These principles can be summarized as: Network operators cannot prevent users from accessing the lawful Internet content, applications, and services of their choice, nor can they prohibit users from attaching non-harmful devices to the network,” Genachowski said in prepared remarks today at the Brookings Institute.

Two additional parameters would prevent Internet access providers from content discrimination while allowing for “reasonable” network management, and require operational transparency from ISPs.

Genachowski will start the process of codifying network neutrality in Notice of Proposed Rulemaking at the commission’s regular October meeting.

“This is not about government regulation of the Internet,” he said. “It’s about fair rules of the road for companies that control access to the Internet.”

Public interest groups in Washington have long rallied for network neutrality, while ISPs--cable and telcos--have fought it vigorously. The carriers say they ought to be able to charge accordingly for data hogs. They successfully had network neutrality rules stripped out of the telecom reform bill passed three years ago, mostly via Republican support.

Democrats in Congress generally have been on board for network neutrality. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) released a laurel for Genachowski’s plan last Friday, before the chairmen even announced it.

“I hope the commission follows Chairman Genachowski’s lead and adopts meaningful rules to ensure unfettered access to content and services on the Internet. This move is an important complement to the bill that Chairman Waxman, Congressman Eshoo and I are pushing to codify these vital protections for consumers and innovation,” Markey said.

Genachowski’s charter from the president is to create a nationwide broadband plan of which network neutrality would be but one element. The use of spectrum, and by whom, will also be a part of the overall framework.

(Cover image by Hershel; UCLA Document image by Dean Terry.)

More on the developing broadband plan:
September 17, 2009: “Legislators Press for Spectrum Inventory”
It’s rare to get agreement across party lines on Capitol Hill, but that was the case this morning when it came to radio frequency spectrum. Legislators and regulators alike agreed that an inventory was in order. The issue arose during a House subcommittee hearing on oversight of the FCC.