FCC approves compromised Net neutrality rules listen12/21/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Today the Federal Communications Commission approved new rules governing Internet traffic. The rule’s proponents are calling it a win for Net Neutrality, while critics on the left and right decry the new roles. FCC Chair Julian Genachowsi said the new rules will foster free speech and fair distribution of content on the Internet.
"Consumers and innovators have a right to a level playing field. No central authority, public or private, should have the power to pick winners or losers on the internet. That's the role of the commercial market and the marketplace of ideas."
President Obama has been a strong advocate of Net neutrality, which is supposed to deem all content equal and bar internet service providers from giving priority to some Web sites over others. Critics, however, say the new rules don’t go far enough, given that they don’t expend Net neutrality to wireless Internet service. Craig Aaron is managing director for the nonprofit Free Press.
"Essentially it divides the Internet into two internets, one you can get on a wired connection and a completely separate Internet you can get on a wireless connection where companies like AT&T and Verizon would be free to pick and choose what sites and services work and which don't. I think that's a terrible outcome for consumers, it's going to decrease competition, and it's going to give a lot of power to these phone and cable companies to pick and choose what succeeds online and what doesn't, which has never been the way the internet has worked before."
Net neutrality advocates say not extending it to mobile phones will allow phone and cable companies to slow down or charge hefty tolls for access to applications or content the company does not favor. Aaron said not extending Net neutrality to wireless Internet services will cause problems for those use their phones as a primary means of Internet access.
"The future of the internet is, really, wireless devices, Already so many of us are using our I-phones or smart phones to get online, to find out what's going on in the world. And this rule really leaves those users very exposed."
Commissioner Michael Copps voted for the new rule, though he said he wished there was more protection for wireless Internet users and those in the business of developing wireless applications.
"The Internet is the Internet no matter how you access it. The millions of citizens going mobile now days for their internet, the entrepreneurs creating innovative wireless content, applications, and services, should have the same freedoms and protections as those in the wired context."
Commissioner Mignon Clyborn also voted for the new rule. But she said she’s concerned that excluding wireless Internet will disproportionately affect minority communities.
"There is evidence in our records that some communities, namely African-American and Hispanic users rely upon mobile internet access much more than other socioeconomic groups."
But commission chair Genakowski defended the lack of protection for wireless provides, saying they need wiggle room for security, speed up Web traffic, and adequately develop their business models.
"The rules recognize that broadband providers need meaningful flexibility to manage their networks, to deal with congestion, security, and other issues. We also recognize the importance and value of business model experimentation such as tier pricing. These are practical necessities and will help promote investment in and expansion of high speed broadband networks."
Despite the two-tiered Net neutrality model that would allow corporations to control what can and can’t be accessed by wireless devices, the FCC’s two conservative commissioners staunchly opposed the new rules. Commissioner Robert McDowell said the commission is overstepping its bounds by requiring Internet providers to treat all content the same.
"The only illness apparent from this order is regulatory hubris. Fortunately cures for this malady are obtainable in court. For all the forgoing reasons I respectfully, just in case you were guessing, dissent."
McDowell said that “all levels of the Internet supply chain are thriving,” and have been since the Internet was privatized in 1994. He said the new rules would stifle the free market.
"Using these new rules as a weapon, politically favored companies will be able to pressure three political appointees to regulate their rivals to gain competitive advantages. Litigation will supplant innovation. Instead of investing in tomorrow's technologies precious capital will be diverted to pay lawyer's fees. The era of internet regulatory arbitrage has dawned."
On the floor of the Senate earlier today, Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell threatened to push back once the new Congress assembles in January.
"They'll wonder, as many already do, if this is a Trojan Horse for further meddling by the government. Fortunately we'll have an opportunity in the new Congress to push back against new rules and regulations."
Craig Aaron of the nonprofit Free Press said the Republicans are taking an extreme tack in order to make even the most watered-down regulation look like a government takeover.
"The Republicans have staked a pretty, I hesitate to use the word extreme, but a very strong position against any rules of any kind. As if internet users need no protection. I don't think that's a tenable position, but they've exploited it very successfully to shift the whole debate further to the right. So the FCC Chairman is trying to position himself between public interest advocates on one hand and these Republican commissioners who would say; 'we won't do anything no matter what.' What you end up with, unfortunately, is a very mushy compromise."
The Federal Communications Commission voted three to two to accept the new rules, though commissioners Copps and Clyburn had strong reservations. But Copps said, “it became clear … that without some action today, the wheels of Net neutrality would grind to a screeching halt.”