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FCC: Disagreement 'Narrowed' on Net Neutrality Proposals

The FCC Wednesday indicated there is a growing consensus on many of its net neutrality proposals.

Bolstering reports that network neutrality stakeholders had made progress in coming up with a common framework for
clarifying the FCC's network neutrality authority, the FCC's notice of further inquiry into its proposed codification and
expansion of network neutrality guidelines said disagreement had "narrowed" on many of the key elements of its proposal.

According to
the FCC, that "narrowed disagreement" includes 1) "that broadband
providers should not prevent users from sending and receiving the lawful
content of their choice, using the lawful applications
and services of their choice, and connecting the nonharmful devices of
their choice to the network, at least on fixed or wireline broadband
platforms;" 2) "that broadband providers should be transparent regarding
their network management practices"; 3) "that
with respect to the handling of lawful traffic, some form of
anti-discrimination protection is appropriate, at least on fixed
or wireline broadband platforms"; 4) "that broadband providers must be
able to reasonably manage their networks, including through
appropriate and tailored mechanisms that reduce the effects of
congestion or address traffic that is unwanted by users or harmful to
the network"; 5) ", that in light of rapid technological and market
change, enforcing high-level rules of the road through
case-by-case adjudication, informed by engineering expertise, is a
better policy approach than promulgating detailed, prescriptive rules
that may have consequences that are difficult to foresee."

commission announced Wednesday it was seeking more input on two
"complex" issues over which there had not been a similar meeting of the
minds: "the relationship between open
Internet protections and services that are provided over the same last-mile facilities as broadband Internet access service
(commonly called "managed" or "specialized" services)"; and "the application of open Internet rules to mobile wireless
Internet access services."

Those were both raised in the original network neutrality notice of proposed rulemaking, but have become hot-button issues
since news or a Google/Verizon accord on those issues and the FCC says it needs to gather more info on them.

decision will likely push any action on the network neutrality
rulemaking into at least early 2011, since the FCC is giving commenters
almost three months to weigh in, then needs to vet those
comments before taking any action.

In the
notice of further comment, the FCC outlined its further concerns about
specialized services in three areas: the fear that those services will
get to bypass open Internet protections, that such
services could "supplant the Open Internet" and allow broadband
providers to constrict capacity on the 'net in favor of those
specialized services, or that competitors could discriminate against
competing specialized services.

The FCC also
proposes six possible approaches, alone or in combination. A) Clearly
define broadband Internet Access "clearly and perhaps broadly" and apply
open access conditions to all of them, with
the specialized service designation going to whatever was left and not
subject to open access conditions, but perhaps to one or more of the
other  approaches; B) require that Internet access be offered as a
stand-alone service and that specialized services
not be marketed as Internet access or a substitute for it; C) require
clear disclosures; D) require specialized services be offered on similar
terms and conditions to third parties; E) allow only a limited set of
specialized services with functionality not
provided on the Internet, like a telemedicine application that requires
"enhanced quality of service'; F) Preventing specialized services from
slowing the performance of Internet access service, including during
times of peak usage.

Those are
responsive to a number of points raised by both sides of the issue.
Networks have argued, for example, that specialized services need to be
allowed for the bandwidth-heavy health and energy
and education applications the FCC has been promoting, though those
nets would likely not support a "special set" of services if it were
confined to those public purpose uses. Guaranteeing capacity would
address concerns by public interest groups that networks
would wind up favoring those paid-of-priority services when bandwidth
push came to shove.

As to applying openness conditions to mobile broadband, the FCC said it needs to update the record since the
rulemaking proposal was issued last fall given recent events, including
the announcement by AT&T that it was offering a differential pricing
plan based on data usage. The commission suggests
those plans may be a good thing because as a governor on usage, they
could reduce the incentive to use other, more restrictive means, to
manage the networks and potentially "run afoul" of openness principles.

Among the
questions it wants answered is whether wireless carriers should be
permitted to restrict distribution of some types of network management
devices and whether they should have less discretion
over applications that compete with services they offer.