New Net Neutrality Rule Expected

Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski will propose a new network neutrality rule during a speech at the Brookings Institute on Monday, the Washington Post reports.

Anonymous sources have told the Post that Genachowski won't offer too many details about the proposed rule and will likely only propose "an additional guideline for networks to be clear that they can't discriminate, or act as gatekeepers, of Web content."

The Post speculates that the rule will essentially be an add-on to the FCC's existing policy statement that networks must allow users to access any lawful Internet content of their choice, to run any legal Web applications of their choice, and to connect to the network using any device that does not harm the network. Additionally, the principles state that consumers are "entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers and content providers."

Broadly speaking, net neutrality is the principle that ISPs should not be allowed to block or degrade Internet traffic from their competitors in order to speed up their own. The major telcos have uniformly opposed net neutrality by arguing that such government intervention would take away ISPs' incentives to upgrade their networks, thus stalling the widespread deployment of broadband Internet. Several consumer rights groups, as well as large Internet companies such as Google and eBay, have led the charge to get Congress to pass laws restricting ISPs from blocking or slowing Internet traffic, so far with little success.

The debate over net neutrality has heated up over the past few years, especially after the Associated Press first reported back in 2007 that Comcast was throttling peer-to-peer applications such as BitTorrent during peak hours. Essentially, the AP reported that Comcast had been employing technology that is activated when a user attempts to share a complete file with another user through such P2P technologies. As the user is uploading the file, Comcast would then send a message to both the uploader and the downloader telling them there has been an error within the network and that a new connection must be established. The FCC explicitly prohibited Comcast from engaging in this type of traffic shaping last year.

Both friends and foes of net neutrality have been waiting anxiously to see how Genachowski would deal with the issue, ever since his confirmation as FCC chairman earlier this year. Net neutrality advocates cheered when Genachowski took over the FCC, as many speculated that he would be far more sympathetic to net neutrality than his predecessor Kevin Martin. Tim Karr, the campaign director for media advocacy group Free Press, said at the time of Genachowski's nomination that he was instrumental at getting then-presidential candidate Barack Obama to endorse net neutrality during his presidential campaign.

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