Internet providers question net neutrality rules

Cable and telco providers, the largest sellers of wired and wireless broadband access in the nation, quickly questioned the FCC’s plan to establish net neutrality rules. Since the campaign, the “hot button” issue has long promised to be a major battle for the Obama administration.

Under the net neutrality rules, the Internet providers will be barred from blocking or slowing Internet traffic on the basis of the content being sent or downloaded. Both cable companies and telcos haven’t yet openly opposed the FCC’s plan, but began to question it. Most have previously called it unnecessary government meddling with the potential to undermine investment. They also suggest it will complicate the need to manage traffic and spam.

Matthew Polka, CEO of the American Cable Association, said the FCC should focus on “content neutrality” rather than network neutrality. He said for years policy makers have been missing how media conglomerates and Web giants use their leverage to assure themselves preferential treatment on the networks of Internet service providers at the expense of other web-based services, applications and consumers.

ESPN360, owned by the Disney, he noted, is pioneering such a closed Internet business model, under which broadband service providers must pay ESPN fees based on its total number of broadband subscribers, forcing those who have no interest in viewing sporting contests over the Internet to subsidize those who actually want to access ESPN360 on a regular basis.

AT&T said it supported applying the existing neutrality principles to wired networks and is open to adding a principle that would prevent companies from discriminating against certain services and applications only on wired networks. But AT&T draws the line at wireless networks like its own.

Wireless service doesn’t need regulation, AT&T argued, because it is a very competitive market. The telco appears to be most concerned about rules that might force it to eliminate certain restrictions it has that limit how much data wireless customers can use. Wireless networks “are facing incredible bandwidth strains,” AT&T said, and requires continued private investment at very high levels and proactive network management.

Consumer groups, on the other hand, praised the FCC chairman. Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, said the move shows the FCC intends to follow through on President Obama’s pledge to protect the free and open Internet.

“This is a tremendous day for millions of us who have been clamoring to keep the Internet free from discrimination, but it’s even more important for the hundreds of millions of Internet users for whom net neutrality will safeguard economic innovation, democratic participation and free speech online,” Silver said.