FCC to Formalize Net Neutrality Laws, Draws Fire

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The U.S. government is considering a plan that would prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from banning actions online that 'hog' bandwidth. The government's proposal would change how Internet providers such as AT&T and Comcast manage their networks and profit from them.

Under the proposal, Internet providers would have to treat all Web traffic equally so they wouldn't be able to block or slow access to services or sites for individual users. The proposed rules however fuel the fire over how much control the government should have over Internet commerce.

Wireless Carriers Oppose Network Neutrality

According to the Wall Street Journal, wireless carriers have been among the fiercest opponents of such regulation. Earlier this year, AT&T prevented its users from using Skype to place calls on their cellular network. (Source: wsj.com)

Pushing wireless carriers to open their networks could shove them beyond their limited capacity. That could result in wireless carriers rethinking how much they charge for data plans or to cap how much bandwidth individual customers get at a time.

The FCC's proposal is expected to take bandwidth limitations faced by wireless carriers into account. Internet providers are currently allowed to block access to illegal services and sites.

Clarification Needed on Net Neutrality Principles

The FCC has four net neutrality principles that call on Internet providers to avoid restricting or delaying access to legal Internet sites and services. Mr. Julius Genachowski, head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is expected to propose that the agency clarify its current principles and turn them into formal rules. He will add a new one requiring carriers to practice 'reasonable' network management and ask for clarification on how to define 'reasonable.'

The network neutrality concept originated with the phone business: all phone calls were to be treated equally. The concept evolved in the Internet age because the world wide web was born on phone wires.

Cable companies have long argued that the concept of network neutrality does not apply to them because they were content companies, not phone companies.

FCC Deregulated Internet Providers in 2005

Phone companies responded by getting into the content business themselves with television services. Consequently, Internet providers and telephone companies had incentives to create conditions on the Internet through pricing or controlling the speed of certain web sites in order to favor their own content. (Source: wsj.com)

The FCC deregulated the Internet business by ruling that ISPs were communication companies in 2005.

The four 'guiding principles' created by the FCC to protect network neutrality were vague enough to embolden companies that were looking for ways around them. By codifying the principle, the FCC is attempting to limit the erosion of network neutrality.

The FCC plans on opening a formal rule-making process on network neutrality at its October meeting. (Source: pcworld.com)

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