Page last updated at 08:08 GMT, Tuesday, 22 September 2009 09:08 UK

'Net neutrality' rules attacked

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

Man using phone on the move, AFP/Getty
Studies show 60% of users are interested in mobile internet access

US proposals to ensure the net remains an open and neutral platform have drawn criticism from the wireless industry.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has for the first time targeted the wireless world to ensure all web traffic is treated equally.

The new rules would require firms to respect so-called "network neutrality."

Industry critics argue that the newly proposed rules, combined with existing policies, will stifle innovation and undermine investment.

However, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said doing nothing was not an option.

In his first major speech since his appointment earlier in the summer, he told an audience in Washington that the rules were "not about government regulation of the internet".

"History's lesson is clear. Ensuring a robust and open internet is the best thing we can do to promote investment and innovation," he told the audience at Washington think-tank the Brookings Institution.

"And while there are some who see every policy decision as either pro-business or pro-consumer, I reject that approach; it's not the right way to see technology's role in America."

The FCC's proposals are meant to ensure that internet service providers cannot block or slow down traffic, such as bandwidth-hogging video downloads. Operators must also be transparent about network management, it said.

Criticism

Almost as soon as Mr Genachowski stepped off the podium, industry critics condemned the inclusion of wireless traffic in the new policy proposals.

Ethernet cable
The FCC says the internet is at a crossroads

"We are concerned the FCC appears ready to extend the entire array of net neutrality requirements to what is perhaps the most competitive consumer market in America: wireless services," said AT&T's Jim Cicconi.

"The internet in America has been a phenomenal success that has spawned technological and business innovation unmatched anywhere else in the world," said David Cohen, executive vice president at Comcast.

"So it's still fair to ask whether increased regulations of the internet is a solution in search of a problem."

Verizon, the nation's biggest cellphone operator, said it believed the FCC has no reason to impose "a new set of regulations that will limit customer choices and affect content providers, application developers, device manufacturers and network builders".

Politicians also weighed in on the proposals.

Six Republican senators introduced a measure that would cut the FCC's funding to "develop and implement new regulatory mandates".

Meanwhile, the two Republicans on the FCC's board said they were not convinced that there were widespread problems of internet providers blocking or slowing traffic that needed to be addressed with new rules.

"Pivotal moment"

However, just as many supporters as critics stood up to praise the FCC's move.

iPhone (Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)
Touch screens are changing the way people use mobiles

The FCC "took an important step in...ensuring that the internet remains a platform for innovation, economic growth, and free expression," wrote Google internet evangelist Vint Cerf, on a company blog

Consumer groups saw the move as a victory.

"This is a tremendous day for millions of us who have been clamouring to keep the internet free from discrimination," said John Silver, executive director of advocacy group Free Press.

Mr Genachowski said the increasing number of people who go online using their mobile phones could not be ignored.

"The revolution in wireless technologies and the creation of path-breaking devices like the BlackBerry and iPhone have enabled millions of us to carry the internet in our pockets and purses."

Gigi Sohn of digital rights group Public Knowledge told BBC News the move was necessary given that "wireless is the next frontier and where the great growth of internet access is going to come from".

Mr Genachowski said he wants as much feedback from consumers, the industry and others on the proposals.

"This is about fair rules of the road for companies that control access to the internet," said the FCC chairman.



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