FCC moves closer to net neutrality

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says net-neutrality will create 'rules of the road' for web providers.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says net-neutrality will create 'rules of the road' for web providers.

University IT officials concerned that corporate control of the internet would mean that only major schools could afford premium web access lauded the Federal Communication Commission’s step Oct. 22 toward barring broadband providers from discriminating against certain types of internet traffic.

The FCC’s two Republican commissioners railed against “government intervention” in the broadband market, but FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski argued that establishing so-called “open internet” rules would prevent web providers from abusing their power.

The FCC voted unanimously to begin a process of formalizing net-neutrality rules after four years of discussion that has produced more than 100,000 pages of comments from 40,000 activists, small business owners, and corporate representatives, among other stakeholders.

The Republican commissioners voted to move forward with the rules-making process, but voiced their opposition to Genachowski’s plans.

The move toward an open internet was met with immediate opposition from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who introduced a bill shortly after the FCC vote that would bar federal regulators from establishing net-neutrality rules. McCain said the wireless internet industry has “exploded” since the 1990s largely because companies were free of regulation.

He characterized the FCC’s plans as a “government takeover” of the internet.

“Keeping businesses free from oppressive regulations is the best stimulus for the current economy,” McCain said.

McCain’s Internet Freedom Act of 2009 would likely face fierce opposition from Democrats in the House and Senate. Although many Democrats have supported net neutrality since the issue was first addressed by the FCC is 2005, some have expressed concern about policies that constitute government control of a booming market.

Education-technology advocates said that without net-neutrality rules, the price of online learning soon could prove untenable for students. If broadband providers are left unchallenged, the price of web access could skyrocket in coming years, discouraging students from pursuing web-based college courses, they said.

“The more time a student spent online, the higher [his or her] internet bill would be,” said Larry Johnson, CEO of the Texas-based New Media Consortium, an international coalition of universities, colleges, libraries, and technology companies. “It would come to a point … where [students] wouldn’t want to do distance learning anymore.”

Republican commissioner Robert McDowell reminded the public that the FCC’s vote means the regulators are “starting a process, not ending one,” and he encouraged all concerned parties to voice their opinions in the coming weeks. He added that being opposed to net-neutrality rules does not mean he is against an open internet.

“I do not share the majority’s view that the internet is showing breaks and cracks,” he said. “Nor do I believe that the government is the best tool to fix it.”

Denny Carter

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