Report: FCC will formalize net neutrality rule

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is planning to create formal rules against Internet providers selectively blocking or slowing traffic, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski will announce net neutrality rulemaking during a speech Monday, the Journal reported. Net neutrality rules would prohibit Internet providers from blocking or slowing their customers' access to Web sites or Web applications. A FCC spokeswoman did not immediately return a message seeking confirmation of the Journal story.

Since mid-2005, the FCC has said it will enforce four broadband policy principles, saying consumers have a right to access the legal Internet content of their choice, and they are entitled to run Web applications and services of their choice.

But the FCC has never made formal net neutrality rules. Broadband provider Comcast filed a lawsuit challenging the FCC's authority to enforce the principles after the agency ruled last August that Comcast had to stop slowing peer-to-peer traffic in the name of network management.

Genachowski is planning on launching a formal rulemaking process on net neutrality, the Journal reported. The rules would apply not only to wireline broadband providers, but also to wireless networks run by companies such as AT&T and Verizon, the newspaper said.

Rulemaking could give the FCC more authority to enforce net neutrality. A bill in the U.S. Congress would also spell out that the FCC has that authority.

Net neutrality advocates welcomed the news.

"The Internet was created and grew up under strict nondiscrimination rules," said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a digital rights advocacy group. "Those same ideas are as valuable today as they were 10 years ago. Having rules in place will bring a degree of certainty that will help both carriers and consumers alike. Carriers will know what is allowed and what is not; consumers will be relieved to know they will be able to have access to any content and service on a nondiscriminatory basis. "

Some critics have suggested net neutrality rules would hamper investment in new broadband pipes, because the broadband providers could not control what runs over their networks.

Sohn disagreed. "Rather, as in the past, they will encourage investment in the kinds of innovation and technology that will help move our economy forward," she said.

Free Press, a media reform group, called the rulemaking a "big win for consumers."

A representative of Comcast declined to comment pending Genachowski's speech. Verizon Wireless will wait until Genachowski's speech before making a comment, a spokesman of that company said.

But Randolph May, president of conservative think tank the Free State Foundation, said it is "discouraging" that the FCC is considering new broadband regulations.

"In light of the way competition is continuing to develop in the broadband marketplace, and with only a few isolated instances of complaints alleging net neutrality-like abuses ever having been filed, it is a mistake for the chairman to propose common carrier-type regulation in the broadband world," he said.

The mobile-phone and Internet industry would be concerned "about the unintended consequences that net neutrality regulation would have on investments from the very industry that's helping to drive the U.S. economy," added Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA, a mobile trade group. "We believe that this kind of regulation is unnecessary in the competitive wireless space as it would prevent carriers from managing their networks -- such as curtailing viruses and other harmful content -- to the benefit of their consumers."

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