FCC Outlines Net Neutrality Plan: Launches OpenInternet.gov

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski Monday spoke at the Brookings Institution, where he outlined the agency’s plans to promote a policy of Net Neutrality.

“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 Chairman Genachowski. “It is vital that we safeguard the free and open internet.”

Genachowski said that the FCC would add two core internet principles to the four previous endorsed by the Commission in 2005, and encapsulated the four established principles thusly: “Network operators cannot prevent users from accessing the lawful internet content, applications, and services of their choice, nor can they prohibit users from attaching non-harmful devices to the network.

“Today,” he added, “I propose that the FCC adopt the existing principles as Commission rules, along with two additional principles that reflect the evolution of the internet and that are essential to ensuring its continued openness.”

The fifth principle states that broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular internet content or applications. “This means they cannot block or degrade lawful traffic over their networks, or pick winners by favoring some content or applications over others in the connection to the subscribers’ homes,” he said. “Nor can they disfavor an internet service just because it competes with a similar service offered by that broadband provider. The internet must continue to allow users to decide what content and applications succeed.”

The sixth principle states that providers of broadband internet access must be transparent about their network management practices. “Why does the FCC need to adopt this principle?” asked Genachowski rhetorically. “The internet evolved through open standards. It was conceived as a tool whose user manual would be free and available to all. But new network practices and technologies challenge this original understanding … with profound consequences for users and content, application and service providers around the world.”

The commissioner also said that the application of these principles may differ depending on the access platform or technology. “The rulemaking process will enable the Commission to analyze fully the implications of the principles for mobile network architecture and practices—and how, as a practical matter, they can be fairly and appropriately implemented.”

Just hours after making his comments, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX)—with support from fellow Republicans John Ensign (Nev.), Sam Brownback (Kansas), David Vitter (La.), Jim DeMint (S.C.) and John Thune (S.D.)—introduced a bill that would prevent the FCC from expending any money in 2010 on the proposed mandates.

The proposed bill reads:

The Federal Communications Commission shall not expend any funds from any account in fiscal year 2010—

(1) to implement any Internet neutrality or network management principles; or (2) to promulgate any rules relating to such principles.

"I am deeply concerned by the direction the FCC appears to be heading," Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican, said in a statement. "These new regulatory mandates and restrictions could stifle investment incentives."

According to Wired, Hutchinson also issued a press release Monday, which included a definition of Net Neutrality as something to be supported.

“Net neutrality refers to policies that promote the Internet as an open platform for innovation and economic growth,” the PR read, “while discouraging intentional discrimination against particular content or applications. These basic principles have been in place for years and have successfully spurred major advances in content, applications, and performance with minimal government involvement.”

Not surprisingly, CTIA, the wireless industry trade association, voiced concern about the "unintended consequences" of regulating the mobile/wireless industry.

"Unlike the other platforms that would be subject to the rules, the wireless industry is extremely competitive, extremely innovative, and extremely personal," Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA, said in a statement. “As we have said before, we are concerned about the unintended consequences Internet regulation would have on consumers considering that competition within the industry has spurred innovation, investment, and growth for the U.S. economy.”