Report: FCC will formalize net neutrality rule

By , IDG News Service |  Internet

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.

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