The Federal Communications Commission has begun a public inquiry (PDF) to get additional feedback on rules governing network neutrality, delaying a decision on how to regulate wireless providers' ability to curb activity on their networks. While the FCC's decision to hold additional hearings has frustrated net neutrality advocates, industry associations, such as CTIA, applauded the move.
The FCC announced Sept. 1 that it plans to postpone making a decision, possibly until November.
Net neutrality involves the FCC potentially limiting the ability of ISPs such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast to restrict certain content and sites on their data networks.
"As the public Internet becomes a virtual 'Main Street' for e-commerce, delivery of video content and marketing to customers, there is a concern that network operators will use their position as ISPs to act as gatekeepers to control network-user access to Internet-based services, applications and content," analyst David Passmore wrote in an April 2 Gartner report.
Throughout the long public debate on net neutrality, the conversation has moved from a focus on preventing broadband providers from restricting lawful online content, applications and services to concentrating on transparency and eliminating discrimination, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement.
Genachowski noted that progress had been made on the issue, but the FCC wants additional feedback on how to handle specialized services and mobile broadband.
The FCC's inquiry into net neutrality has focused on four principles, namely consumers' ability to choose content; to choose applications and services; to use legal devices of their choice; and to pick providers in a competitive broadband market.
"The information received through this inquiry, along with the record developed to date, will help complete our efforts to establish an enforceable framework to preserve Internet freedom and openness," Genachowski wrote.
The CTIA wireless industry association was satisfied with the FCC's announcement that it would look into the mobile broadband side of the issue.
"We are happy the chairman and the commissioners realize that wireless is different," CTIA President Steve Largent said in a statement. "We will continue to work with them to explain why these rules are unnecessary and should not be applied to the wireless ecosystem."
Meanwhile, Matt Wood, associate director of Media Access Project, a nonprofit law firm and communications policy advocacy group, was unhappy with the FCC's move to seek feedback on whether wireless broadband and specialized services require different rules, rather than simply announcing a decision.
"The record demonstrates already that the same framework and openness principles should apply to all broadband access services, even if the rules differ on the basis of legitimate technological differences," Wood said in a statement. "The record also shows that the Commission must retain authority over specialized services."
On Aug. 9, Google and Verizon ignited a firestorm of public debate over a proposal to outlaw discrimination against applications, content and other traffic on the open Internet by wire-line operators.
And in April a federal appeals court ruled that the FCC could not rebuke Comcast for interfering with data transfers on BitTorrent, an open-source file-sharing application.
The FCC's net neutrality ruling could be delayed until after the November elections, according to The Wall Street Journal.