As was rumored last week, FCC boss, Julius Genachowski, gave a speech where he pushes to have the FCC's "principles of network openness" codified into law
. Basically, he's come out in support of a net neutrality law, giving the FCC the power to regulate the issue. In the speech, he suggests that the four principles that were already put forth by former FCC chair Michael Powell get two additions, and have all six codified as law. The first four are:
- Freedom to Access Content. First, consumers should have access to their choice of legal content
- Freedom to Use Applications. Second, consumers should be able to run applications of their
- Freedom to Attach Personal Devices. Third, consumers should be permitted to attach any
devices they choose to the connection in their homes.
- Freedom to Obtain Service Plan Information. Fourth, consumers should receive meaningful
information regarding their service plans.
To that, Genachowski adds the following two:
- The fifth principle is one of non-discrimination -- stating that broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications.
- The sixth principle is a transparency principle -- stating that providers of broadband Internet access must be transparent about their network management practices.
I have to admit that the sixth principle sounds a lot like the fourth, and the whole thing remains pretty vague. The more interesting bit is the plan to include wireless technologies in what's covered here, something the FCC hasn't paid nearly as much attention to in the past.
While I believe that the basic concept of a neutral internet is very important to keeping the internet as a platform for innovation, I have to admit that I'm quite nervous about any attempt to put it into the law. First, many are noting that the telcos will undoubtedly heavily lobby the process
to make sure that the final legislation has plenty of loopholes and quid pro quo aspects in it. As Broadband Reports notes:
While anyone and everyone will participate, you can expect lobbyists for AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to continue to get the best seats. Be mindful that lobbyists will likely work very hard to make these principles as weak as possible so they can only be used in the most egregious instances of foul play. This is a perfect opportunity for telecom lobbyists to pre-empt tougher federal laws, that not coincidentally picked up steam in Congress last week.
Also be aware that when lobbyists see discussions of "transparency," their immediate thought is that it's a perfect opportunity to push harder for low usage caps and high per-byte overages. Mega-carriers believe that as long as they're facing expectations of honesty when it comes to network management, they might as well use the opportunity to their advantage in almost vindictive fashion. Expect the industry's continued dream of shifting from flat-rate pricing to metered billing to play a starring role as the rules get hashed out.
Not surprisingly, the broadband providers rushed out prepared statements
that all start off with "applause" for Genachowski, followed by something rather different than applause... each positioning reasons for why putting such principles into law is a bad, bad idea. In other words, expect a big fight and any law to be greatly watered down.
My biggest fear, honestly, isn't in what happens with this particular law, but what happens down the road. I believe that Genachowski really is committed to reasonable internet principles. But once we've given the FCC a mandate to regulate how the internet works, then those laws can and will be updated and changed. What if the next FCC chair is a former telco exec -- certainly not outside the realm of possibility. Opening up that door is likely to result in some very bad legislation down the road.