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FCC launches war of net ideologues

Comments on open internet rules, please

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The US Federal Communications Commission has voted unanimously to begin the formal process of listening to a pair of modern-day religious factions howl at each other over proposed rules for an open internet.

FCC chair Julius Genachowski last month proposed formal net neutrality rules that would prohibit internet service providers from discriminating against particular content or applications.

Now, his fellows commissioners have voted to begin the process of actually putting those rules on the books. Genachowski floated his proposal at the FCC's meeting on Thursday, and all four of his colleagues - Republicans and Democrats - voted in favor of beginning the rule making process.

This will involve taking public input on Genachowski's proposal. And you can bet that narrow-minded ideologues on both sides of the issue are lining up for the fight.

"Now it’s time to take the next step... launching a process to craft reasonable and enforceable rules of the road to preserve a free and open internet," Genachowski said in a statement, before taking a swipe at his predecessors. "Because, let’s be honest, the Commission’s actions, laudable in so many respects, have left the protection of the free and open internet unnecessarily vulnerable and uncertain."

In August 2005, the FCC laid down a policy statement (PDF) meant to encourage a so-called open internet, but as shown by the madness that followed Comcast's bust for BitTorrent busting, these not-rules do little more than sow confusion.

An Obama appointee, Genachowski wants to transform that quartet of policy "principles" into formal FCC rules - while laying down two new rules of his own.

In essence, the existing principles say that ISPs cannot prevent the people from accessing lawful net content, applications, or services of their choice or attaching non-harmful devices to the network. Genachowski also wants a fifth rule that prohibits content and application discrimination and a sixth that would require ISPs to be "transparent" about their network management practices.

In the FCC's words, rule five would require ISPs "to treat lawful content, applications, and services in a nondiscriminatory manner," and rule six would require them to "disclose such information concerning network management and other practices as is reasonably required for users and content, application, and service providers to enjoy the protections specified in this rulemaking."

Under the draft rules, ISPs would be permitted to address "harmful traffic and traffic unwanted by users" including spam, prevent the transfer of unlawful content - such as child pornography, and prevent transfers that infringe copyright.

What's more than draft rules apply to "all platforms of broadband Internet access," including mobile networks. Cue the vitriol from AT&T. And the bark-back from Google. Since its 2005 policy statement, FCC public comment notices involving "openness issues" have generated more than 100,000 pages of input in approximately 40,000 official filings. ®

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