Magazine article Information Today

The FCC's Push for Network Neutrality

Magazine article Information Today

The FCC's Push for Network Neutrality

Article excerpt

I started using email in the late 1980s on a 2400-baud modem. By the early 1990s, I had Mosaic on my desktop computer and a 14.4 modem, and then I really was hooked and upgraded to Netscape and a 56K modem by the mid-1990s.

By the time the 21st century rolled around, I was using a T1 line at my office and was moving to cable-based broadband at home. Now I access hundreds of database resources online as part of my job, do my Christmas shopping online from home, occasionally watch YouTube or Hulu on my lunch hour, and am even looking into VoIP for home telephone use.

In other words, I'm a fairly typical user of internet bandwidth, which isn't much compared to some other personal users and not even close to the use of commercial and governmental interests. But as all this use has increased, so has the amount of available bandwidth. Although technology enhancements have made more bandwidth available through wired and wireless environments, bandwidth is not an infinite resource.

Let's Talk About Discrimination

Those same enhancements also allow bandwidth providers to allocate and potentially discriminate against users and types of uses. Whether they should be allowed to do so is at the center of the ongoing Net Neutrality debate, an issue at the core of a broader debate about the role of government in regulating the internet.

Congress has been debating internet regulation for years. However, in recent months, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has stepped to the front of the specific debate on Net Neutrality. In late 2009, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would codify its position on Net Neutrality into law, if it were enacted.

Internet Principles

The 107-page notice begins with a broad discussion of the history of internet development and its corresponding history of technological challenges. It also identifies four internet "principles" that have guided the FCC's interpretation of its responsibilities for internet development. Those principles are as follows:

* Consumers are entitled to access lawful internet content.

* They can run applications and use services.

* They can connect legal devices that do not harm the network.

* They are entitled to competition among network, application, service, and content providers.

However, these principles are all subject to "reasonable network management," and none of them currently have the force of law.

The notice adds two new principles: The fifth principle requires broadband internet providers to "treat lawful content, applications, and services in a nondiscriminatory manner," and the sixth principle requires the service provider to disclose information about its network management practices to consumers. Both of these principles are central to Net Neutrality.

Enforceable Rules

The FCC is proposing to convert these principles into legally enforceable rules. For the nondiscriminatory principle, the FCC would focus on the relationship between broadband internet service providers (ISPs) and content, application, or service (CAS) providers. The rule would not allow an ISP to charge a CAS provider a higher rate for "enhanced or prioritized" access to the ISP's end-user subscribers. This rule would also apply to mobile broadband internet services.

ISPs would be allowed to take reasonable steps to manage their networks, including steps to address network congestion, quality of service, and security needs. …

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