Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Chairman Speaks at Brookings

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski speaking at Brookings Institution on September 21st outlined the actions needed to preserve the free and open internet. He talked about the four principles that already guide the FCC’s existing case-by-case enforcement of communications law. Basically, these four principles state that network operators can’t prevent users from accessing lawful internet content, applications, and services of their choice, nor can they prohibit users from attaching non-harmful devices to the network.

Chairman Genachowski announced the addition of two new principles. The first new principle states that broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular internet content or applications. This means they cannot block or degrade lawful traffic over their networks or pick winners by favoring some content or application over others in the connection to the subscriber’s homes. Nor can they disfavor an internet service just because it competes with a similar service offered by that broadband provider.

The Chairman is going to propose that the FCC evaluate alleged violations of the non-discrimination principle as they arise, on a case-by-case basis to allow the Commission to make reasoned and fact-based determinations based on today’s internet—not on the internet of past years.

The second new principle involves transparency and requires that providers of broadband internet access be transparent about their network management practices. Greater transparency will give consumers the confidence of knowing that they are getting the service they have paid for, enable innovators to make their offerings work effectively over the internet, and allow policymakers to ensure that broadband providers are preserving the internet as a level playing field. It will also help facilitate discussion among all the participants in the internet ecosystem, which will help reduce the need for government involvement in network management disagreements.

According to the Chairman, last year, the FCC ruled on the blocking of peer-to-peer transmissions by a cable broadband provider. The blocking was initially implemented with no notice to subscribers or the public. This was only discovered after an engineer and hobbyist living in Oregon realized that his attempt to share public domain recordings of old barbershop quartet songs over a home internet connection was not taking place. It was only when he brought the problem to the attention of the media and internet community that this matter was brought to the attention of the FCC. At that point, the improper network management practice became known and was stopped.

The transparency principle will not require broadband providers to disclose personal information about subscribers or information that might compromise the security of the network and there will be a mechanism in place to protect competitively sensitive data.

The FCC is going to begin the process of codifying the existing four open internet principles along with the two additional principles through a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in October. At this time, NPRM will ask for feedback on the proposed rules and their applications. The FCC wants to hear comments on topics such as how to determine whether network management practices are reasonable and what information broadband providers should disclose about their network management practices and in what form. Also, under discussion is how the internet openness principles should apply to mobile broadband.

The FCC will also hold a number of public workshops and on September 21st, the Commission launched a new website to kick off the discussion on these principles and issues.