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Internet ‘net neutrality’ endorsed by FCC chief

from – Washington – The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission today called for more aggressive action to keep online traffic moving freely, proposing two new government policies to prevent telecommunications companies from restricting websites and other services on the Internet.

The two new FCC rules would govern how Internet service providers such as AT&T Inc. and Time Warner Cable Inc. manage their networks, enshrining so-called “network neutrality” into the agency’s policy. Under the proposal from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, network operators would be prohibited from discriminating against the type of data traveling through their systems and would have to be clear about how they manage their networks.

The rules would apply to Internet access no matter how it is delivered — over coaxial cable, fiber-optic lines or wirelessly on mobile devices.

“The rise of serious challenges to the free and open Internet puts us at a crossroads. We could see the Internet’s doors shut to entrepreneurs, the spirit of innovation stifled, a full and free flow of information compromised,” Genachowski said today in a speech at the Brookings Institution think tank. “Or we could take steps to preserve Internet openness, helping ensure a future of opportunity, innovation and a vibrant marketplace.”

Genachowski’s proposals, which would have to be approved by the FCC, follow President Obama’s support for network neutrality during the 2008 presidential campaign.

The issue has become a major cause in recent years for Internet activists and many Democratic lawmakers who worry that large telecommunications companies will squeeze out competitors offering video and other services or charge websites fees to have their pages delivered faster to users.

Since 2005, the FCC has had four Internet principles assuring that Internet users can access any legal content, application or service and allowing them to attach any device to the Internet as long as it doesn’t harm the network.

Genachowski proposes to strengthen those guiding principles by making them formal rules and add the two new rules prohibiting network operators from slowing certain applications or website access and mandating that operators clearly state their policies. He also wants to extend all the rules to wireless Internet service.

Genachowski, a former Internet industry executive appointed by President Obama, said the Internet has become “such a powerful engine for creativity, innovation, and economic growth” because its original architects decided to make it “an open system.”

Telecommunications companies oppose nondiscrimination rules for the Internet because they believe those rules will limit their ability to manage their networks to keep them running smoothly, such as preventing some large users from eating up so much bandwidth that it slows down service for others. Restricting how networks run will make it harder for companies to get the funding they need to expand their networks, they said.

But Genachowski dismissed those concerns, saying history has shown that a fully open Internet promotes investment. And he cited some recent incidents that have raised concern about how telecommunications companies run their networks, including FCC action last year to order Comcast Corp. to stop blocking customer access to file-sharing technology.

“This is not about government regulation of the Internet. It’s about fair rules of the road for companies that control access to the Internet,” he said. “This is not about protecting the Internet against imaginary dangers. We’re seeing the breaks and cracks emerge, and they threaten to change the Internet’s fundamental architecture of openness.”

Genachowski said the FCC would deal with online discrimination of content case by case. When networks are congested, for example, telecommunications companies might be allowed to limit use by “very heavy users” so other customers would not be prevented from using the Internet.


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