FCC Chair Proposes Net Neutrality Rules

Before Julius Genachowski took the helm of the Federal Communications Commission, he frequently touted the importance of net neutrality. Today, he made good on his statements by proposing the agency formally create neutrality rules.

"Because it is vital that the Internet continue to be an engine of innovation, economic growth, competition and democratic engagement, I believe the FCC must be a smart cop on the beat preserving a free and open Internet," he said during a speech at the Brookings Institution.

Specifically, he proposed that the agency 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. Additionally, he proposed adding two additional mandates -- nondiscrimination and transparency.

The nondiscrimination requirement seems to largely overlap with the requirement that Internet service providers allow consumers to access all lawful content, applications and services, but with some key distinctions. For instance, an Internet service provider might decide to slow some content, but not block it completely. In that case, the ISP arguably is still allowing consumers to access the material, but is also discriminating based on content.

The transparency mandate would require ISPs to disclose their traffic management practices. Former FCC chair Kevin Martin had said that transparency was implicit in the 2005 policy statement. That document said that networks could deploy reasonable traffic management practices; Martin previously said that practices must be disclosed in order to be considered reasonable. In the past, the FCC endorsed net neutrality in principle, but shied away from a formal rule-making. But even without official regulations, the agency took the position that it could enforce its 2005 Internet policy statement. Last year, the FCC sanctioned Comcast for violating that statement by blocking some peer-to-peer traffic. Comcast argued that the FCC had no authority to sanction the company because its principles weren't codified into regulations. That issue is now in the hands of the appellate courts.

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