Monday, September 21, 2009
FCC announces plan to protect access to an open Internet
During a speech at the Brookings Institution this morning, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski outlined a proposal for explicit rules that would protect consumer access to an open Internet. The proposed rules would preserve "network neutrality," preventing broadband-based Internet providers from discriminating against certain services, applications, or viewpoints on the Web, and requiring providers to be transparent about their network management practices.
To some it may seem like an esoteric issue, but this boils down to protecting the Internet as an engine for innovation, economic growth, social discourse, and the free flow of ideas. Preserving non-discriminatory access also has the virtue of protecting consumer choice, ensuring that an Internet access provider cannot block fair access to any application provider on the Internet. We could not be more pleased to see Chairman Genachowski take up this mantle, and we look forward to working with the Commission as it finalizes its plans.
The Internet was built as an open platform, which means that the creators of new services and content do not need to seek permission from carriers or pay special fees to be seen online. This "innovation without permission" effect has allowed countless individuals and companies to offer new applications to the world, businesses large and small to open shop online, and anyone with an Internet connection to share their opinions freely in the marketplace of ideas. It's not until recently, in the wake of dogmatic deregulation, that this open environment has come under threat.
If consumers had a wide choice of broadband service providers, preserving an open Internet might not be such a critical issue. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans have few (if any) choices in selecting a provider. As a result, these providers are in a position to influence whether and how consumers and producers can use the on-ramps to the Internet -- and we've already seen several examples of discriminatory actions or threats that impair openness.
Allowing a handful of broadband carriers to determine what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the features that have made the Internet such a success, and could permanently compromise the Internet as a platform for the free exchange of information, commerce, and ideas. By outlining explicit open Internet requirements, the FCC is seeking to prevent this from happening.
There's no doubt that running an Internet service provider is a complicated business. As we've said in the past, we believe that providers should have the flexibility to manage traffic congestion and malware on their networks in non-discriminatory ways. They should not, however, be in the anti-competitive business of picking winners and losers. For example, carriers should not be allowed to degrade access to competitors' web sites, to favor access to a corporate partner or their own value-added services to the detriment of a Mom and Pop shop, or to discriminate against protected political speech.
The Internet was designed to maximize user choice and competition, and we've all benefited immensely as a result. Today the FCC took an important step in protecting that environment and ensuring that the Internet remains a platform for innovation, economic growth, and free expression.