FCC Broadband Rules Could Boost US Net Neutrality


FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has laid down new rules for applying narrow regulations to broadband providers

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski May 6 laid down new rules for applying narrow regulations to broadband providers in the US, which should please Internet companies such as Google as much as it dismays Internet access providers such as Comcast and Cablevision.

Under the “third way broadband framework” Genachowski said the FCC will recognise the transmission component of broadband access service as a telecommunications service and apply only the six sections of Title II that were believed to be within the FCC’s purview for broadband.

The FCC will also put in place rules to guard against regulatory overreach. Genachowski said the approach would forbid the FCC from regulating rates charged by telephone and cable companies for Internet service.

The commission also may not regulate the Internet, he said.

“It will treat only the transmission component of broadband access service as a telecommunications service while preserving the longstanding consensus that the FCC should not regulate the Internet, including web-based services and applications, e-commerce sites, and online content,” Genachowski said.

Boosting network neutrality

Genachowski’s “third way” is geared to boost network neutrality rules that order Internet service providers to treat all traffic equally, and not give preferential treatment to some websites over others. Net neutrality has become something of a crusade for companies such as Google and Amazon, which depend on the Internet to deliver web services and goods.

The third way is also a measured response to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which ruled on 6 April that the FCC did not have the authority to order Comcast to stop throttling BitTorrent traffic and that Comcast could regulate Internet traffic over its own system.

The FCC in 2008 had complained that Comcast and other Internet providers must treat content that traverses their pipes equally. Comcast took the FCC to the court and won, with the court claiming the FCC had overstepped its boundaries.

As such, the FCC’s third way, perceived as a rally against the court’s decision must have a strong legal footing. FCC General Counsel Austin Schlick believes it is rooted in the idea that the computing component and the broadband transmission component of Internet access service are separate entities subject to different regulation.

Genachowski’s third way is also a move to prop up the National Broadband Plan, which was dealt a hard blow by Comcast’s victory. The FCC said the Comcast ruling impedes plans to accelerate broadband access and adoption in rural America and connecting low-income Americans, among other recommendations.

The third way is designed to turn the tables on Comcast. Genachowski’s proposal must be approved by three or more of the FCC’s five commissioners before it can come to fruition.

Divided reaction

Reaction to Genachowski’s third way plan was swift and cleanly divided.

Conservatives disdain the proposal, fearing government regulation over Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner and other access providers would stifle investment and innovation. Democrats lent their support to Genachowski’s plan, characterising it as a victory for network neutrality and consumers.

Google, whose interests lie in making sure its web applications are accessed freely on the Internet, declined to comment. A spokesperson pointed eWEEK to the position from the Open Internet Coalition, whose members include Google, Amazon, eBay and others. OIC Executive Director Markham Erickson noted:

“After Comcast v. FCC, consumers were essentially stranded on the information highway without protection from the FCC. This step by the FCC ensures that consumer choice and innovation on the broadband Internet will receive the protections this essential communications infrastructure for the 21st century requires.”

Comcast told Bloomberg it is “disappointed” by Genachowski’s action. Cablevision COO Tom Rutledge said on the company’s first quarter conference call today that regulating network providers under rules written in the early 20th century is a bad decision.

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