Federal Communications Commission chief Julius Genachowski made it official Monday that he intends to move forward with an FCC net neutrality rule that could ban internet service providers from either limiting consumers’ video downloads or offering some internet content a faster path to desktop.
Essentially reversing a policy set by his predecessor Kevin Martin, Genachowski used a speech at the Brookings Institution to announce that the FCC will begin debating implementing the rule at its October meeting.
And already the Republic opposition has started forming.
Genahowski’s proposal would add two new elements to the FCC’s principles governing web service providers.
First, web service providers would have to publicly and clearly disclose the policies they used to manage traffic at times of high congestion. Then they couldn’t arbitrarily favor some traffic over others — for instance either lessening the speed of all video downloads or giving ABC.com faster pipes to consumers’ desktops that it doesn’t give CBS.com or smaller internet sites.
He also made clear the principles apply to all internet service providers, including wireless providers and not just land line based providers.
“The Internet is an extraordinary platform for innovation, job creation, investment and opportunity. It has unleashed the potential of entrepreneurs and enabled the launch and growth of small businesses across America,” Genachowski said in the speech. “It is vital that we safeguard the free and open Internet.”
Establishing of net neutrality had been an essential element of the President Obama’s Technology and Innovation Plan, which Genachowski helped write.
Monday afternoon six Senate Republicans moved to block the FCC from acting.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, in announcing the move warned net neutrality would “impede investment and innovation of new technologies.”
Hutchison, the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, joined Sens. John Ensign (R-Nev.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), David Vitter (R-La.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and John Thune R-S.D.) in proposing an amendment to an Interior Department appropriations bill that would bar the FCC from spending any money to develop or implement a new regulatory mandate.
Meanwhile the two Republican commissioners on the FCC, Robert M. McDowell and Meredith A. Baker, questioned whether the FCC majority had reached conclusions on the needs for a rule before seeking public comment.
“We are concerned that both factual and legal conclusions may have been drawn before the process has begun,” they said in a statement.
Reaction was also quick from outside the beltway, as well.
Vint Cerf, chief internet evangelist at Google and the man who some give credit for inventing the world wide web, praised the move — as did some consumer groups.
“To some it may seem like an esoteric issue, but this boils down to protecting the Internet as an engine for innovation, economic growth, social discourse, and the free flow of ideas,” he said in a blog posting. He warned that without FCC action, “providers are in a position to influence whether and how consumers and producers can use the on-ramps to the internet.”
Meanwhile, internet service providers sounded warnings.
At Brookings, David E. Young, Verizon’s VP of federal regulatory affairs, said he was concerned that with little evidence of real problems having occurred, the FCC was stepping in to regulate the traditionally unregulated internet. “The concern is it will stifle innovation investment and growth,” he said.
“This would represent the first rules ever to apply to the internet and there are some concerns about the unintended consequences of doing that. To dramatically change the U.S. policy to not regulate the internet is a pretty radical thing and should be driven by a real need to do so.”
Comcast said it supported Genachowski’s goal of an open internet, but in a blog entry, executive VP David L. Cohen noted the growth of the internet and questioned the need for regulation.
“The internet in America has been a phenomenal success that has spawned technological and business innovation unmatched anywhere in the world,” he said in the blog. “So it’s still fair to ask whether increased regulation of the Internet is a solution in search of a problem.”
Genachowski in his speech cited the blocking of internet phone service as one example where the blocking has already occurred. “There are compelling reasons to be concerned about the future of openness,” he said, as he warned about what could happen without FCC action.
“The great majority of companies that operate our nation’s broadband pipes rely upon revenue from selling phone service, cable TV subscriptions, or both. These services increasingly compete with voice and video products provided over the Internet. The net result is that broadband providers’ rational bottom-line interests may diverge from the broad interests of consumers in competition and choice.”
Under Martin, the FCC adopted four open Internet principles affirming that consumers must be able to access the lawful internet content, applications, and services of their choice, and attach non-harmful devices to the network.
The Independent Film & Television Alliance expressed support for the FCC’s moves.
“For independent producers and distributors, it is critical that Internet providers not be allowed to discriminate and pick winners and losers in the delivery of content over the Internet," said Jean Prewitt, IFTA’s president and CEO. "Neither we, nor consumers, can afford to have large gatekeepers restrict access to the Internet as they have restricted access to network and cable television.”