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FCC Gets Net Neutrality Boost

Prominent <a href="http://voices.washingtonpost.com/posttech/2009/10/internet_heavyweights_are_weig.html">tech companies</a> and individuals associated with the creation of the Internet (although not Al Gore) are filling new Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski's inbox with letters in support of his <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/blog/main/archives/2009/09/does_network_ne.html">proposed network neutrality rules</a>.

Michael Hickins

October 20, 2009

3 Min Read

Prominent tech companies and individuals associated with the creation of the Internet (although not Al Gore) are filling new Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski's inbox with letters in support of his proposed network neutrality rules.This flurry of letters, publicized by the likes of Public Knowledge and the Open Internet Coalition, is in response to an equally fervid campaign by incumbent carriers and cable companies arguing against regulation on the grounds of free enterprise, and comes days before Genachowski is to propose new rules.

Genachowski, who probably didn't realize that being FCC chairman means getting so much fan mail when he accepted President Obama's nomination, received a letter of support signed by Internet pioneers Vint Cerf, Stephen Crocker, David Reed, Lauren Weinstein and Daniel Lynch.

And he should also look for a letter from Colorado Democratic House member Jared Polis, who last week signed a letter opposing network neutrality. Polis is now looking for co-signatories to a letter supporting regulations safeguarding "an internet that is accessible and free to be innovative."

The quintet of pioneers said they "commend [Genchachowski's] initiative to protect and maintain the Internet's unique openness, and support the FCC process for considering the adoption of [the] proposed nondiscrimination and transparency principles."

They also made a couple of points in an attempt to dispel misinformation being spread by Verizon, AT&T and other opponents of network neutrality regulations:

One persistent myth is that "network neutrality" somehow requires that all packets be treated identically, that no prioritization or quality of service is permitted under such a framework, and that network neutrality would forbid charging users higher fees for faster speed circuits. To the contrary, we believe such features are permitted within a "network neutral" framework, so long they are not applied in an anti-competitive fashion.

There's another myth being spread, and that's the idea that government should leave free enterprise alone to regulate itself. That worked out pretty well in financial services, didn't it?

The fact is, regulation has always, always, always played a huge role in the information technology industry, going even farther back than the government-mandated break-up of Ma Bell, thanks to which Verizon and AT&T actually owe their existence.

I'm not even talking about government subsidies that created the Internet, but the government's initial decision to grant IBM an antitrust exemption in 1956, and then its decision to prosecute IBM for abusing its monopoly a decade later, which eventually led IBM to unbundle its hardware and software businesses in order to avoid the ire of the Justice Department.

It's that decision, made because of the threat of government action, that allowed the software industry to come into existence. The threat of government action was necessary because markets aren't truly free if incumbents are in a position to snuff competition in the cradle. That's the position the incumbent carriers and cable companies are in now, and would like to perpetuate, and what Genachoswki aims to ensure doesn't happen.

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