On September 1st the FCC requested further comment on their Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding the matter of “Preserving the Open Internet” (i.e. Net Neutrality). The Request for Further Comment was published in the Federal Register last Friday, which means comments are due on or before October 12, 2010 and reply comments are due on or before November 4, 2010.
The document concedes that there has already been some agreement on key elements of Net Neutrality. For example, there is agreement that broadband providers should not prevent users on wire-line networks from sending and receiving lawful content. Also, while providers should be able to “reasonably manage their networks”, they must be transparent regarding network management practices.
There are two areas on which the FCC is seeking additional comment. These have been raised, in part, due to a joint proposal that was released by Google and Verizon to mitigate some of the Net Neutrality debate. That proposal left open the possibility of providers offering access to premium content or prioritized service over specialized networks. The concern the FCC raises is that broadband providers might bypass and thus weaken the open Internet. They state if these specialized or managed services become the norm, then this could lead to less focus and investment on the open Internet. In other words, it would whither like a state route next to a new superhighway (think Radiator Springs). They are also concerned about this in the context of consolidation between big ISPs and content providers such as the Comcast-NBCU merger—the thought being that Comcast could provide prioritized access to NBCU content, which would harm the competitive environment for other content and services.
The second general concern the FCC raises has to do with mobile wireless broadband. The Google/Verizon proposal specifically exempted mobile broadband networks, stating that the mobile market is different from wired broadband and more competitive. The concern, of course, is that providers like Google and Verizon could discriminate against other content in favor of their own services.
The good news is that there seems to be some consensus on key points. If you take out the fringe elements of the debate, there is a lot of common ground. If cool heads prevail, a structure that will suit the interests of all but the most extreme is certainly attainable.
If you are interested in submitting a comment, you can do so either by filing papers the traditional way, or through the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS), which is the preferred method.
For more information on the FCC’s request for further comment see the: