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Net Neutrality Backers: TAG Isn't It

Network neutrality backers were quick to weigh in on the announcement of the formation of an industry technical advisory group (TAG) to come up with a consensus on reasonable broadband network management practices and advise the government on the issue. (See related: Industry Companies Form Broadband Advisory Group)

The FCC has proposed tapping industry expertise for its own plan to expand and codify broadband access guidelines, a plan Free Press and other network neutrality regulation supporters say should not be preempted by the industry announcement.

Free Press Policy Counsel M. Chris Riley said he had no problem with industry trying to "identify broadband network management practices that do not harm users," but he said in a statement reacting to the technical working group announcement that it should not be a substitute for the government setting its own "basic rules of the road for the Internet." He called the proposal premature, and said defining nondiscrimination should be within a legal framework and backed by enforceable rules.

"Even if this group puts out excellent recommendations, they will be just that - recommendations," Riley said. "There must be a separate FCC rulemaking process, which can take the recommendations of this or any other voluntary advisory group into account, but rubber-stamping those recommendations would ignore the agency's mandate to create public policy in the public interest. Allowing industry to set its own rules is like allowing BP to regulate its drilling. The Comcast BitTorrent case shows that without government oversight, Internet Service Providers will engage in what are already deemed by engineers to be bad practices."

Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, was slightly more positive, but with the same big caveat. "We believe there is a role for advisory groups to consult on items of technical importance. Given that this advisory group is only just getting off the ground, we are cautiously optimistic that it may do some good."

But she said that as currently constituted, the group is dominated by the telecom industry--members include Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T--and that, in any event, "it is not a substitute for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules and enforcement procedures and it certainly should not be interpreted as such by anyone."