The Federal Communications Commission is expected to take the first step Thursday toward enacting net neutrality regulations that would ban Internet service providers from impeding Web traffic.
The agency is expected to unveil proposed rules that would codify the four principles set out in its 2005 Internet policy statement, which said that consumers are entitled to access all lawful content, applications and services, and that they can attach devices to the network. FCC Chair Julius Genachowski has also proposed two additional principles -- nondiscrimination and transparency.
Although the FCC hasn't yet unveiled drafts of the potential rules, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have already weighed in on the matter, as have consumer advocates, Web companies, Internet experts and Internet service providers.
Opponents generally say that regulation will discourage broadband investment, while advocates argue that the rules will merely codify the open Internet principles that have historically existed online.
Rep. Joe Barton, (R-Texas) said this week that the proposed rules "raise serious issues as to potentially catastrophic effects on investment in and deployment of broadband services throughout the country."
He urged the FCC to "be extremely cautious as to the promulgation of regulatory policies which could retard investment in new technologies and cause loss of employment in the communications sector."
But lawmakers in favor of neutrality regulation argue that the FCC needs to ensure that Internet service providers follow the same non-discrimination principles as common carriers like telephone companies. "The continued success of the Internet is dependent on an open architecture that allows anyone with a good idea or innovative product to compete on a global scale," Reps Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) told the FCC this week.
Among the advocates for neutrality principles are CEOs of Google, Amazon, Craigslist and Facebook, as well as Internet pioneers like Vint Cerf.
Opponents that have gone on record so far include the telecom workers union Communication Workers of America, some Internet service providers, and about 90 federal lawmakers. Last week, 18 Republican Senators and 72 House Democrats expressed concern about neutrality rules -- although one of the House members, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), later reversed course and circulated a draft letter supporting neutrality regulations.
Meanwhile, the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation is questioning whether the FCC has the authority to enact neutrality rules. "We expect the FCC will rely on its 'ancillary jurisdiction,' a position that amounts to 'we can regulate the Internet however we like without waiting for Congress to act,'" EFF attorney Corynne McSherry wrote on the group's blog. "That's a power grab that would leave the Internet subject to the regulatory whims of the FCC long after Chairman Genachowski leaves his post."