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FTC opposes net neutrality regulation

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) entered the net neutrality arena last week, siding with the major network operators fighting regulations that would ensure that all Internet content is treated equally.

The FTC disagrees with proposed network neutrality rules that would prevent Internet providers from charging extra fees to guarantee access to the Internet or give priority to certain content.

The contentious debate has pitted the likes of major content providers like Google and eBay that want net neutrality protection against network operators like AT&T and Verizon that want the government to leave the market unregulated.

The debate, fanned by consumer protests, has flared up in Congress and at the FCC as telecoms move into the television distribution business and as video programming migrates to the Internet. The telecoms, which are upgrading their networks for video delivery, want the option of charging customers higher fees for delivering premium data files in a faster and more reliable way than ordinary data traffic.

Content owners and consumer activists argue that Internet users should be able to access any Web content and use any applications, without restrictions or limitations imposed by the Internet service provider.

In a report released last week, the FTC argued that the government should be cautious about imposing net neutrality rules. “This report recommends that policy makers proceed with caution in the evolving, dynamic industry of broadband Internet access, which generally is moving toward more —not less — competition,” FTC chairman Deborah Majoras said.

“In the absence of significant market failure or demonstrated consumer harm, policy makers should be particularly hesitant to enact new regulation in this area,” Majoras said.

The report said that data prioritization technologies could improve the quality of service Internet delivery of certain content and applications, increase network profitability, and enable greater investment and innovation in quality and expansion.

However, the report also admitted that widespread use of such technologies has potential risks and could create difficulties for newer or weaker providers of Internet content. “Prioritization could enable not only complete blocking of disfavored content and applications, but also intentional or passive degrading of their delivery, which could be tantamount to blocking.”