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FCC adopts net neutrality rules

Compromise measure may please very few.

By Karen Datko Dec 21, 2010 4:39PM

This post comes from Mark Huffman at partner site


As expected, the Federal Communications Commission has adopted new net neutrality rules, providing guidelines for both wired and wireless networks.

The policy, described by some as a compromise, passed along a party-line vote, with Democrats on the commission supporting it and Republicans opposed. The rules are likely to be challenged in court in the year ahead.


Network neutrality refers to the principle that Internet content providers should have equal access to the Internet and should suffer no restrictions on content, sites or platforms that may be attached.


Network operators have generally objected to that principle, saying they have borne the cost of building and maintaining the network and should be allowed to control the amount of traffic traveling through it. Post continues after video.

Under the new policy, crafted by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, there will be one set of rules for traditional wired networks, like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, and another for wireless providers like Verizon Wireless. The wired networks would be prohibited from blocking access to websites and applications, but the wireless providers would be able to block access to some apps.


Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., was critical of that aspect of the policy, pointing out, for instance, that Verizon Wireless would be free to block access to Google Maps, a free feature, making Verizon Wireless subscribers use the provider's maps app, which carries a fee.


The new policy would also not prohibit "paid prioritization," in which a content provider could pay a network a fee to provide faster, or more prioritized access, to its material.



Digital rights groups expressed some disappointment with the new policy, saying it is too weak and watered down. Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of the Washington-based group Public Knowledge, said the policy "fell far short" of what it could have been.


"Instead of a rule that would protect everyone, from consumers to applications developers, from predatory practices of telephone and cable companies, the commission settled for much less," Sohn said. "Instead of strong, firm rules providing clear protections, the commission created a vague and shifting landscape open to interpretation. Consumers deserved better."


But having been rebuffed in court once already over the issue of net neutrality, Genachowski may have looked for common ground.


"These rules fulfill a promise to the future, to companies that don't yet exist, and the entrepreneurs that haven't yet started work in their dorm rooms or garages," Genachowski said.


Second attempt

He noted that, at the moment, there are no enforceable rules to protect basic Internet values. And having failed in his first attempt to implement a net neutrality policy, Genachowski may have looked for ways to compromise.


In April, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., ruled that the FCC lacked the authority to impose net neutrality regulations on Internet providers and operators of broadband networks.


The unanimous finding overturned the FCC's cease-and-desist order against Comcast, which had imposed measures to slow traffic to what it considered heavy users.


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