Battle Lines Drawn in FCC Net Neutrality Fight

The gloves are off. Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the FCC, announced new guidelines to formalize the concept of net neutrality. Within hours, opponents of net neutrality published statements and op ed articles expressing objections, and a handful of elected U.S. representatives filed an amendment intended to prevent the FCC from taking action.

The speed of the political response is stunning. Granted, it had been leaked at least a few days earlier that Genachowski would address net neutrality in his speech to the Brookings Institute on Monday. And, Genachowski's views on Net Neutrality are not a secret. So, opponents had a couple days to prepare.

There are two sides to the issue, so let's look at the motivation behind the opposition. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said in a statement that "these new regulatory mandates and restrictions could stifle investment incentives."

The primary concern about formalizing net neutrality seems to revolve around the incentive for providers like Comcast or AT&T to invest in expanding the infrastructure and developing innovative new technologies.

David L. Cohen, executive vice president of broadband for Comcast, wrote a blog post expressing Comcast's tentative support for the FCC initiative, but providing some caveats for why Comcast doesn't feel formalized Net Neutrality is necessary.

The irony is that Cohen's argument supports the need for formalizing net neutrality. Cohen points out that the debate over net neutrality has raged on for years and that the FCC already has a policy in place providing general guidelines for openness. He states that "there can be no doubt that the Internet has enjoyed immense growth even as these debates have gone on."

I say the Internet has enjoyed immense growth because these debates have gone on, not in spite of them. In other words, providers like Comcast were on notice and aware that the debate existed and it is because of that knowledge that the Internet is where it is today.

Cohen proves my point when he illustrates that, despite the existing FCC guidelines, Comcast implemented bandwidth throttling for certain types of content. The FCC stepped in and demanded that they cease that activity.

Comcast has appealed that decision and continues to fight for the right to discriminate against certain traffic. But, Cohen says in his post "However, the public scrutiny also led us to discuss our network management practices openly with the Internet community. And these discussions convinced us to move to a different network management practice."

Translation: because the FCC exists and has established guidelines, and because the enforcement of those guidelines led to a public discussion, Comcast was forced to reconsider its practices and stop discriminating by throttling peer-to-peer file sharing traffic.

It is because of the FCC and the net neutrality debate, not in spite of it.

Senator Hutchison, with support from a handful of other Republican Senators, attached an amendment to an appropriations bill seeking to tie the hands of the FCC by prohibiting any funding for developing or implementing new Internet regulations. According to her statement, she is apparently concerned that "we must tread lightly when it comes to new regulations."

She didn't have that same concern back in March though when she was championing the cause of intervention and applauding the FCC action to issue a Notice of Inquiry in response to the Child Safe Viewing Act. At that time Hutchison said "I am pleased that the FCC has taken steps to begin a comprehensive review of existing blocking and filtering technologies."

The response seems over the top and really brings into question what the true political motivations are. Congress didn't seem to object to the FCC witch hunt and waste of budgetary dollars pursuing CBS for the infamous Janet Jackson ‘wardrobe malfunction'.

The FCC is charged with responsibility for managing the airwaves, bandwidth, and communication in this country. Genachowski is simply working to address emerging technologies and the changing landscape of communications to adapt and evolve in a manner that is fair to both providers and customers.

Genachowski has said that nothing has been determined yet. He called for an open and public discussion of the pros and cons of net neutrality that is "fair, transparent, fact-based, and data-driven." If there are real concerns about incentive to invest and innovate, opponents should show up, present the case, and let a decision be made. What are they afraid of?

Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com .

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