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FCC Takes On Net Neutrality

21 Sep, 2009 By: Chris Tribbey

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Sept. 21 threw down the gauntlet over Internet neutrality, introducing new principals that would seek to prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating against certain content or applications, such as peer-to-peer file-sharing services.

The FCC also announced it wants ISPs to be transparent about how they manage their networks, such as in cases where heavy users may be restricted. The announcement builds on the FCC’s previous open Internet principles, which allow for consumer access to lawful content, application and services, and the attachment of non-harmful devices to networks. The FCC will add the new principles to its old slate to determine case-by-case enforcement of law.

“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,” said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. “It is vital that we safeguard the free and open Internet.”

The FCC will seek input on the principles and begin the process of adopting them in October.

Comcast EVP David Cohen responded to the announcement, writing on the company’s Web site that he welcomes the dialogue on Internet neutrality.

“But before we rush into a new regulatory environment for the Internet, let’s remember there can be no doubt that the Internet has enjoyed immense growth even as these debates have gone on,” he wrote. “The Internet in America has been a phenomenal success that has spawned technological and business innovation unmatched anywhere in the world. So it’s still fair to ask whether increased regulation of the Internet is a solution in search of a problem.”

Comcast is appealing a mid-2008 ruling by the FCC that found Comcast had selectively interfered with customers’ Web activity, including peer-to-peer file sharing. Comcast is appealing on the grounds that the FCC does not have the power to regulate how Comcast manages its networks.

Fred von Lohmann, senior attorney with the Electronic Frontier Association, said the outcome of that case with the District of Columbia Court of Appeals might decide whether the FCC’s new principles have any teeth.

“Where did Congress write that the FCC has the right to regulate the Internet?” he asked, saying a ruling would be fodder either way for future Congressional legislation. “It’s just not clear that the FCC has the jurisdiction.”

Lloyd Kaufman, chairman of the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA), praised the FCC announcement but cautioned that it wasn’t a statement in favor of illegal file sharing.
“Copyright protection is critical for the independents and the entertainment industry as a whole. However, fears of piracy cannot be an excuse to deny access to legitimate content and applications. Non-discrimination and network management transparency principles are important steps in ensuring that this distinction is recognized,” he said.

In addition to the new principles, the FCC announced it had launched a new Web site regarding Internet neutrality, www.openinternet.gov.

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