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FCC Proceeds on Network Neutrality

The FCC this week unanimously agreed to proceed on network neutrality rules to prohibit Internet service providers from controlling traffic. The five commissioners unanimously approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to codify how providers manage networks.

The FCC has been working on some form of regulations since establishing four voluntary tenants in 2004. Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski proposed ratification of those principles last month: “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.”

The call for network neutrality arose a few years ago when ISPs were found to be blocking their competitors in voice-over-Internet provision. The big cable companies that provide broadband have also lobbied for the right to levy charge in line with data consumption for high-usage sites.

Opponents felt this type of control by gatekeepers would threaten the very egalitarian fabric of the Internet.

Today’s NPRM is the first step in the ratification of network neutrality. Specifically, the FCC said that under the proposed rules, “subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service:
1. Would not be allowed to prevent any of its users from sending or receiving the lawful content of the user’s choice over the Internet;
2. Would not be allowed to prevent any of its users from running the lawful applications or using the lawful services of the user’s choice;
3. Would not be allowed to prevent any of its users from connecting to and using on its network the user’s choice of lawful devices that do not harm the network;
4. Would not be allowed to deprive any of its users of the user’s entitlement to competition among network providers, application providers, service providers, and content providers;
5. Would be required to treat lawful content, applications, and services in a nondiscriminatory manner; and
6. Would be required to disclose such information concerning network management and other practices as is reasonably required for users and content, application, and service providers to enjoy the protections specified in this rulemaking.

The FCC says the rules allow ISPs to address “harmful traffic,” spam, kiddie porn and copyright violations.

The commission is seeking feedback on how to define and handle managed IP services, video, voice and enterprise business services, telemedicine, e-learning and other specialized applications. It also seeks comment on how to apply the rules without stifling investment and innovation by the ISPs, how to encompass wireless broadband, and a timeframe for the whole shebang.

Comments on the NPRM, Dockets No. 09-191 and 07-52, are due Jan. 14, 2010; reply comments are due March 5, 2010.

“In addition, the rulemaking process will include many other avenues for public input, including open workshops on key issues providing feedback through, which will include regular blog posts by commission staff; and other new media tools, including IdeaScale, an online platform for brainstorming and rating solutions to policy challenges,” the FCC said.

Chairman Genachowski, Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn concurred; Commissioners Robert McDowell and Meredith Atwell Baker concurred and dissented in part.

The 107-page NPRM is available here [PDF].