Network Neutrality Missing in Genachowski Praise

By Roy Mark  |  Posted 2009-03-04 Print this article Print

title=Openness Isn't Net Neutrality}

Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of the very pro-network neutrality organization Public Knowledge, said she has known Genachowski for 15 years in his various public and private roles.

"I believe that in his new role Julius will work to ensure that the FCC meets its legal obligation to protect the 'public interest, convenience and necessity' and will develop a principled, strategic policy agenda that promotes openness, free speech, competition, innovation, access, economic growth and consumer welfare," Sohn said.

But openness is not network neutrality, as illustrated in Obama's stimulus package and the 700MHz spectrum auction held in 2008. The stimulus legislation requires that any organization receiving grants or loans to build broadband networks allow any legal device to be connected to the new networks. Network operators are prohibited from discriminating in the handling of network traffic, at least as defined by the FCC's network neutrality principles, which are currently under legal challenge by Comcast.

Similarly, winners of the 700MHz spectrum are required to permit the use of any device and any application on the network.

In both cases, winners of the stimulus money and the 700MHz spectrum are not required to permit other service providers to connect to the network at wholesale rates, nor are they required to make important network interfaces available to those providers, which Public Knowledge says is essential to a true network neutrality policy.

"These are pro-consumer conditions for sure, but do not accomplish the one goal both the FCC and Congress set for the auction: creation of a third broadband service provider that can compete with cable and telephone companies, which control 96 percent of residential broadband lines in the United States," Sohn wrote before the auction.

And as Public Knowledge Communications Director Art Brodsky noted of the stimulus, "It's important to realize that whatever open network and nondiscrimination conditions are applied as part of the stimulus will be very limited in scope, applying only to projects generated as a result of grants, loans or loan guarantees made under the legislation."

In other words, it's not network neutrality.

In August 2005, the FCC declared that consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice, run applications and services of their choice, and plug in and run legal devices of their choice. The FCC also said consumers have a right to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

As soon as the FCC promulgated its network neutrality principles, questions began over the agency's legal authority to make such rules. Indeed, when the FCC found Comcast guilty of violating the agency's Internet policy when it blocked peer-to-peer traffic by BitTorrent, Comcast went to court to challenge the FCC's authority.

If, as expected, Genachowski is approved by the Senate, he faces a multitude of problems at the FCC, including the digital television transition, the unsold block of spectrum dedicated to public safety and, of course, network neutrality.

"Much like [Obama] himself, the next FCC chairman will be forced to hit the ground running from Day One. The importance of Genachowski's position should not be overlooked," Black said. "The next chairman is poised to confront major policy issues that will impact the future of the Internet and our digital economy."


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