Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachwoski praised wireless carriers AT&T and Verizon Oct. 7 for increasing their efforts to open their networks, but warned mobile carriers gathered in San Diego for a CTIA show that "we shouldn't have uncertainty about whether we'll have an open Internet."
The day before the show opened and two weeks after Genachowski announced the FCC would consider rules that would extend network neutrality to mobile networks, AT&T said it was changing its network policy to permit VOIP iPhone applications -- most notably Skype -- that bypass AT&T's own voice service. Previously, the Skype Internet phone service for the iPhone was limited to Wi-Fi connectivity.
"I...appreciate AT&T's announcement yesterday allowing Internet calling applications on the iPhone -- a decision I commend," Genachowski told the carriers. "And also Verizon's announcement about the Android platform. These are both wins for consumers."
After promising the wireless carriers the FCC would seek to bring more spectrum to the commercial marketplace to accommodate the booming demand for wireless services, Genachowski carefully explained his agency's pending proceeding on network neutrality without ever using the actual phrase network neutrality before the crowd that has implacably opposed the initiative.
Genachowski proposed Sept. 21 new network neutrality rules that would require carriers to deliver broadband in a non-discriminatory manner and to disclose their network management policies in a transparent manner. Genachowski also said the FCC would explore whether to extend network neutrality rules to mobile carriers.
"The FCC has been looking at these issues for quite some time, and over the years a bipartisan Commission has adopted and enforced open Internet principles," Genachowski said. "It did so, however, in a way that has left many confused about the landscape -- about whether we do or don't have Internet openness protections."
Those network neutrality principles are currently under legal attack, leading Genachowski to seek turning the principles into legally enforceable rules and regulations. Significantly for wireless carriers, the principles only apply to wireline carriers.
"As we embrace the opportunities of a wired and wireless broadband world, we shouldn't have uncertainty about whether we'll have an open Internet," Genachowski said. "A broadband world that includes both fixed and mobile is both desirable and inevitable. I believe it will be essential to ensure that the Internet remains open -- a vibrant platform for innovation and investment, creativity and speech, an enduring engine for job creation and economic growth."
Again carefully choosing his words, Genachowski acknowledged extending network neutrality rules to the mobile Internet could create network traffic management issues for wireless carriers.
"In looking at wired and wireless Internet access, some have said that 'one size doesn't fit all.' I agree. We know from experience at the FCC that there are real and relevant differences between wired and wireless," Genachowski said. "Mobile poses unique congestion issues, for example. Managing a wireless network isn't the same as managing a fiber network, and what constitutes reasonable network management will appropriately reflect that difference."
Genachowski also said he recognized the wireless industry has its own market structure and competitive landscape and how "well-intended government action can lead to unintended consequences."
Nevertheless, Genachowski added, "I believe firmly in the need for the FCC to preserve Internet openness, whether a person accesses the Internet from a desktop computer or a wireless laptop or netbook. I also believe the question of how we accomplish that goal, particularly in the wireless context, poses some difficult questions -- questions that remain open and will be considered in the FCC's proceeding."
The FCC currently enforces network neutrality on a case-by-case basis for wireline carriers through four principles the agency approved in 2005. The principles prohibit broadband carriers from blocking lawful Internet content, applications and services and allows users to attach legal devices to the network.
Genachowski's proposal would add non-discrimination as another network neutrality principle, prohibiting broadband providers from discriminating against particular Internet content or applications. In addition, broadband providers would be required to disclose their network management policies.
In addition to wireless carrier objections, Genachowski's new network neutrality proposal is also drawing strong opposition from Republicans in Congress. House Republicans Oct. 5 sent Genachowski insisting that the FCC prove any market failures before approving any new regulations.
The House Republican leadership warned President Obama Oct. 2 that expanded network neutrality rules and the formal codification of those rules will jeopardize future broadband network investment by carriers. Moreover, the minority leadership claimed, Genachowski is inserting politics into the National Broadband Plan the FCC is preparing for Congress.
In the Senate, rumors continued to circulate that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison plans to introduce legislation aimed at stopping any new network neutrality rules. When Genachowski proposed the new rules Sept. 21, Hutchison moved to cut off any FCC funding related to implementing any Internet neutrality or network management principles, a legislative gambit she quickly abandoned.
"At first glance, net neutrality regulations may appear reasonable and harmless, but, a deeper examination reveals that net neutrality is neither reasonable nor harmless," Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), ranking Member of the House Communications, Technology & the Internet Subcommittee, said in a statement. "These mandates would harm consumers, reduce competition and discourage new investment and innovation at a time of tremendous technological growth."