Four years ago, the Federal Communications Commission adopted “network neutrality” principles that protected consumers’ rights to use Internet-based applications, services, content and devices of their choosing, and to foster competition among Internet providers.
Last week, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski proposed formalizing these rules and adding an additional one designed to prevent Internet providers from discriminating against certain applications or content by using bans or service degradations against offerings that compete with their own.
Genachowski also proposed that the rules should apply to wireless networks, which had not heretofore been subject to the network neutrality principles.
The FCC invoked network neutrality last year when it called-out Comcast for attempting to degrade the Internet connections of users who were attempting to use a particular kind of file-sharing software. Comcast appealed the ruling on grounds that the neutrality principles had not been formally adopted.
Formal adoption of the rules promises to be a time consuming process since it requires an extended period for public comment. During this phase, the communications industry is sure to raise several objections.
In particular, some providers want to offer faster connections to companies that pay a premium for the service, such as those who provide high-definition movies online.
Public advocates fear that such services can transform the Internet into a tiered service in which premium offerings are available only to well-endowed users.
Genachowski will likely compromise in this area, allowing experimentation with premium services while assuring that sites which do not pay extra continue receiving service levels to which they have become accustomed.
The formalization process should begin later this month. A final plan could be voted on by next spring.