FCC Commissioner Clyburn Breaks with Chairman on Wireless Rules

Clyburn cautioned that net neutrality does not cause the development of two different kinds of Internet worlds.

Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Mignon Clyburn distanced herself from the position of the body's chairman, Julius Genachowski, with remarks during the Practicing Law Institute's annual telecommunications summit, telling the audience she thought net neutrality-a concept supporting a free and open Internet-- should extend to wireless networks as well. "While I recognize that there are distinctions between wired and wireless networks, I think it is essential that our wireless networks-those of the present and future-grow in an open way just as our wired ones have," she said.

The speech came as the FCC prepares for a vote on net neutrality later this month. The proposal would build upon framework developed by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman and Sen. Harry Waxman, D-Calif., which would see the agency move phone and cable companies into the Title II, or Broadcast Servers, section of the Telecommunications Act passed in 1996. In September, legislation aimed at regulating how Internet providers such as Comcast offer Internet service to their customers collapsed in the face of Republican opposition.

"During the past year, we observed consensus in action, when Verizon and Google put their collective heads together, for the specific purpose of finding common ground. They first submitted a letter to the Commission highlighting their commonalities, followed by a proposal on which they both agreed," Clyburn said. "While those two companies may not agree on every single facet of open Internet principles, they reached agreement on several important standards."

Clyburn cautioned that net neutrality should ensure that, although there are two kinds of networks, does not cause the development of two kinds of Internet worlds. She noted that aside from technical differences, the basic user experience should be the same, adding many consumers use wireless networks exclusively to access good and services.

"More generally, we have observed that many companies, public interest advocates, and other stakeholders, have been engaged on these issues during the past 14 months, at the Commission and on the Hill, and I am greatly encouraged by the increased communication," she said. "It is my belief that collaboration can work when all parties are committed to the process."

A group of those public interest activists and stakeholders expressed their opinion of the FCC's net neutrality plan in a joint letter released Friday, which said the regulations don't go far enough. Representatives from organizations like the Center for Media Justice, Center for Digital Democracy and the MIT Center for Future Civic Media found flaws in five areas of the order: paid prioritization, which the letter termed the "antithesis" of openness, loophole-free definitions, protection against specialized services, a lack of sound legal footing and adequate protection for wireless.

"At the end of the day for me, this is about consumers. Their access to an open Internet must be protected, because I believe that currently, there are no clear, enforceable rules," Clyburn said. "We need guidelines-or in the Chairman's parlance-"rules of the road," so that providers know precisely what is acceptable behavior and consumers clearly know their rights."