Another interesting update on the F.C.C. chairmans’s attempt to outline a framework for broadband Internet services that forbids blocking or slowing of lawful content.
This framework will strike right at the heart of net neutrality, a hot topic recently and with strong positions on both sides of this issue. Whatever the outcomes to the December 21 F.C.C. meeting where this may be voted on, the effects will impact most large companies in both wired and wireless spaces, not to mention all of us users.
( By EDWARD WYATT NYT) WASHINGTON — Thwarted by the courts, by lawmakers on Capitol Hill and by some of his fellow commissioners, the Federal Communications Commission chairman will try again on Wednesday to devise a new strategy for regulating broadband Internet service providers.
In a speech he plans to give Wednesday in Washington, Julius Genachowski, the F.C.C. chairman, will outline a framework for broadband Internet service that forbids both wired and wireless Internet service providers from blocking lawful content. But the proposal would allow broadband providers to charge consumers different rates for different levels of service, according to a text of the speech provided to The New York Times.
Mr. Genachowski has decided not to use the commission’s telephone regulatory powers to govern broadband Internet service, a move that he proposed in May that would potentially open Internet service to heavier government regulation.
His proposal would also allow broadband providers to manage their networks to limit congestion or harmful traffic.
The framework will form the basis for a proposed order scheduled to be voted on during the F.C.C.’s Dec. 21 meeting.
Mr. Genachowski says he believes he has the legal authority to act because he argues that his plan would help spread broadband service more widely across the country, a priority that Congress has established as one of the F.C.C.’s mandates. It is not clear whether the latest proposal will garner the support of the majority of the five-person commission.
While he has a fair chance of securing the votes of the two other Democrats, he faces a potential fight with one of those commissioners, Michael J. Copps, who has been public in his support for stricter regulation of broadband Internet service.
Mr. Genachowski will also face significant opposition from Republicans in the House of Representatives, who last month warned against attempts to regulate broadband service and the Internet.
The chairman intends to say that he believes the proposal is necessary to guarantee that the Internet continues to provide an incubator for innovation by start-up companies. “Broadband providers have natural business incentives to leverage their position as gatekeepers to the Internet,” the text of the speech says. “The record in the proceeding we’ve run over the past year, as well as history, shows that there are real risks to the Internet’s continued freedom and openness.”
The proposal will allow broadband companies to impose usage-based pricing, charging customers higher prices if they make heavy use of data-rich applications like streaming movies. Users who use the Internet only to check e-mail, for example, could be charged lower prices for using less data.
The F.C.C. also will allow companies to experiment with the offering of so-called specialized services, providing separate highways outside the public Internet for specific uses like medical services or home security.
But companies will be required to justify why those services will not be provided over the open Internet and to demonstrate that their implementation does not detract from a company’s investment in the more widely used open Internet infrastructure.
As for broadband service delivered over wires, providers to homes or offices will be prohibited from blocking lawful content, applications, services and the connection of nonharmful devices to the network.
The companies also will be subject to transparency requirements as to how their networks are managed.
For wireless broadband, the fastest-growing segment of the industry, the proposal includes a transparency requirement and “a basic no-blocking rule” covering Web sites and certain applications that compete with services that the broadband provider also offers.
But Mr. Genachowski says he recognizes “differences between fixed and mobile broadband,” and therefore will allow for flexibility for wireless rules. But he said he planned to “address anticompetitive or anticonsumer behavior as appropriate.”
The issue of an open Internet, or net neutrality, dates to at least September 2005, when the F.C.C. unanimously voted to classify Internet access service as an “information service” subject only to regulation under powers previously given by Congress to the F.C.C. That kept it out of the more-regulated category of “telecommunications services,” which, like telephone service, are subject to rate review and other regulation by the commission.
At the same time, the commission adopted an Internet Policy Statement that set out principles for an open Internet and expressed its view that it had the jurisdiction necessary to ensure that providers of Internet access operated their services in a neutral manner, not discriminating on the basis of content.
In 2008, the F.C.C. issued a finding that Comcast had violated federal Internet policy when it secretly blocked or slowed down the transmission by its customers of information via BitTorrent, a so-called peer-to-peer service that allows users to share large files.
Comcast challenged the F.C.C.’s order, claiming that the commission lacked the authority to regulate how it managed its Internet service because doing so was not ancillary to any legal authority given to the commission by Congress.
In April, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in Comcast’s favor, saying that the F.C.C. lacked the authority to enforce nondiscrimination principles over an information service.
Since that ruling, the commission’s authority to regulate broadband service has been uncertain and hotly debated.