US: Net Neutrality Plan Gets Mixed Reviews

On Wednesday FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced his latest proposal for Net Neutrality rules. His plan would forbid both wired and wireless Internet service providers from blocking lawful content, but without resorting to changing the way the FCC regulates broadband providers.

Telecom lawyers and public interest groups have argued that without redefining its role over ISPs, the Commission's ability to carry out broadband rules is weakened. In the end, the proposal could still wind up being challenged in courts.

Although the plan does allow broadband providers to manage their networks to limit congestion or harmful traffic, Mr. Genachowski thinks there is "a sound legal basis" to pursue so-called net neutrality rules that would prevent ISPs from blocking or serving up certain web sites faster and at better quality than others.

For wireless networks weaker rules apply. Mobile operators would be prohibited from blocking competing voice and video applications such as Skype, Google Voice or Netflix. But they wouldn't be bound to the rules against prioritizing certain applications and web sites on their networks like fixed broadband providers.

"Mobile broadband is at an earlier stage of development than fixed broadband, and is evolving rapidly," Genachowski said.

According to the New York Times, the proposal received strong support from prominent venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, and there was both praise and concern among companies that would be affected.

Mobile operator Sprint said that it “commends the F.C.C. for the careful and deliberate approach it has taken on this issue.”

But Verizon Wireless, the largest mobile provider in the U.S. was less impressed. Thomas J. Tauke, a Verizon executive vice president said, “The F.C.C.’s authority to act in this area is uncertain, and Congress has indicated a strong interest in addressing this issue.” Mr. Tauke said any new rules should be temporary, which would “encourage Congressional action, while showing appropriate deference to Congress.”

On December 21st the FCC will vote on the proposed plan. The meeting will be broadcast live. The statements of the chairman and the other commissioners – including Michael J. Copps, who is an advocate for stricter regulation – are posted on the FCC's web site.

Source: NY Times, Washington Post

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