Neutrality Proposals Draw Mixed Reactions
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski's remarks on Monday backing new net neutrality rules drew widely divergent reactions from broadband advocates, network providers, and policymakers.
Some advocacy groups like Free Press and Public Knowledge cheered Genachowski's comments, while also saying that his proposals do not mark a significant departure from prior rulings.
But the two Republican FCC members disagreed, arguing that Genachowski's suggested new rules "would appear to be a reversal of decades of precedent."
And Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) responded by introducing an amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill that would prevent the FCC from even taking up new neutrality rules. Five other Republican senators signed on as co-sponsors.
Speaking at the Brookings Institution on Monday, Genachowski said the FCC should codify its 2005 Internet policy statement, which set out four neutrality principles -- that consumers have the ability to access all lawful content, applications and services, and that they can attach devices to the network. He also proposed two other mandates -- that network providers not discriminate against any lawful content and that they fully disclose traffic management practices. In addition, Genachowski said neutrality principles should also apply to wireless networks.
Advocacy groups Free Press and Public Knowledge said Genachowski's proposals would not set a new course as much as clarify existing standards.
Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott said Genachowski's proposals were a "logical extension" of several key actions, including last year's groundbreaking decision to sanction Comcast for blocking peer-to-peer traffic.
Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, said the new rules will make it clear that Internet service providers must adhere to common carrier principles of nondiscrimination, as was explicitly the case until 2005. That year, the FCC introduced some murkiness into the picture by saying that ISPs were no longer subject to the same rules as telephone service providers.
"Net neutrality rules will not be radical government intervention and will not deter investment," Sohn said, adding that ISPs invested in their networks in the pre-2005 era, when they were considered common carriers.
The two Republican FCC members issued a joint statement expressing doubt about the need for new neutrality regulations. "We are concerned that both factual and legal conclusions may have been drawn before the process has begun," they said, adding that the Commission should not adopt rules "in an effort to alleviate the political pressures of the day, if the facts do not clearly demonstrate that a problem needs to be remedied."
They also said the new rules appeared to mark a reversal of "the Clinton-Gore Administration's bipartisan policy to allow a diverse assortment of technical experts, rather than politicians and bureaucrats, working in loosely knit non-governmental organizations to make such engineering decisions."
They added that Genachowski's proposal to codify the 2005 Internet policy statement "appears to admit that the Commission did not have enforceable rules at the time of last year's Comcast/BitTorrent decision." Comcast is appealing that ruling on the grounds that the FCC lacked authority to sanction it for violating a policy statement that had never been enshrined in regulations.
Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen said in a blog post that it's "fair to ask whether increased regulation of the Internet is a solution in search of a problem."
Sena Fitzmaurice, executive director for corporate communications at Comcast, added that the company "applauds Chairman Genachowski's goal of ensuring that the Internet remains open as it is today," and will work with the FCC in the proceeding.
AT&T's Jim Cicconi, senior executive vice president for legislative affairs, said the company had concerns about the proposal to extend neutrality rules to wireless networks. "We have applauded this FCC for emphasizing that its regulatory decisions would be data-driven. We would thus be very disappointed if it has already drawn a conclusion to regulate wireless services despite the absence of any compelling evidence of problems or abuse that would warrant government intervention," Cicconi said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers including Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. John Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), praised Genachowski's comments. And although Hutchison's amendment drew some GOP support, it wasn't expected to pass.