Creative Commons License

FCC on Net Neutrality

Monday, September 21, 2009 at 11:07 PM EDT

Today, Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, gave a widely-awaited speech on the subject of Net Neutrality. He pointed out (correctly, in my view) that much of the success of the Internet, including its success in areas undreamed-of by its founders, is in large part due to its open standards and architecture.

His proposal for moving forward is centered on the development of four principles that the FCC has already articulated for addressing individual cases:

To date, the Federal Communications Commission has addressed these issues by announcing four Internet principles that guide our case-by-case enforcement of the communications laws. These principles can be summarized as: Network operators cannot prevent users from accessing the lawful Internet content, applications, and services of their choice, nor can they prohibit users from attaching non-harmful devices to the network.

He proposes extending this framework by adding two additional principles of non-discrimination and transparency:

  • Broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications.
  • Providers of broadband Internet access must be transparent about their network management practices.

He also believes that this framework should in principle apply to all broadband providers, whether fixed-line or mobile, with the understanding that some details may need to be adjusted for particular service environments:

Even though each form of Internet access has unique technical characteristics, they are all are different roads to the same place. It is essential that the Internet itself remain open, however users reach it. The principles I’ve been speaking about apply to the Internet however accessed, and I will ask my fellow Commissioners to join me in confirming this.

The chairman’s intention is to embody some more specific proposals in a forthcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, to make them available for public discussion and comment. The FCC has also launched a new Web site,, to provide a focus for discussion. (Perhaps taking a leaf from Google’s notebook, the site is even labeled as “beta“.)

This seems to me to be a positive development for consumers. We can expect to hear some noisy opposition, particularly from the large network providers, who would very much like to find a way to skim some revenue from the streams of data that are flowing through their particular “tubes”; if past experience is any guide, some of these arguments will be (to use a lovely British phrase) quite economical with the truth.

I will discuss this in a more detail in a subsequent post. You can read Mr. Genachowski’s speech at the new Web site; you can also download the text [PDF].