End Data Discrimination

As expected, the FCC voted to move forward with a proposal to codify its four net neutrality principles and add non-discrimination and transparency rules to the regulations that will govern both wireless and wired broadband networks.

The first of the new principles would prevent Internet access providers from discriminating against particular Internet content or applications while allowing for reasonable network management. The second would ensure that Internet access providers are transparent about the network management practices they implement. The other four are:
  • To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice.
  • To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.
  • To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.
  • To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.
FCC votes for the net neutrality rule-making process

The commission voted 5-0 to begin the rule-making process. The next steps will likely involve months of debate now that the FCC is asked for comments on the proposal. Initial comments are due on Jan. 14. Hours later, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced legislation aimed at prohibiting the FCC from enacting rules that would regulate access to the Internet. The legislation, called 'The Internet Freedom Act of 2009,' aimed at keeping the Internet from being regulated by the government. 'Keeping businesses free from oppressive regulations is the best stimulus for the current economy,' he said. The two Republican FCC commissioners, Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker dissented in part on last week's vote, arguing that the commission should proceed with its eyes open to the unintended consequences of the new regulations. They said they were unsure that there was enough of a problem to warrant new regulations, and questioned whether the FCC had the authority to impose the new rules. The GOP commissioners' dissent essentially signals that they intend to move forward with the action, but disagree with the current language in the proposal.

As promised by Chairman Julius Genachowski, the proposed rules governing wireless networks took into account that wireless networks have different network architectures, market structures, patterns of consumer usage, and regulatory history than wired networks. The draft rules will seek comment on how in what time frames and to what extent the rules should apply to wireless. Moreover, another point of debate will likely center on what "reasonable network management" means as it pertains to an operator's ability to manage network traffic (based on tiered access?). The draft rules say that such management includes practices that reduce or mitigate network congestion, address traffic that is unlawful, unwanted by users, or deemed harmful. The commission staff also noted that nothing in the rules will prohibit service providers from delivering emergency communications. Additionally, the notice seeks comment on how to define managed services, such as subscription video services, telemedicine, or smart grids, and how the new policies should apply to them. The commission also is going to form a technical outreach group to discuss network management issues and all other issues that have technical ramifications.

Instances of data discrimination listed on Wikipedia from 2004-2007, unfortunately, cause hardship for other applications that get grouped into the same categories and get blocked. 
  • In 2004, a small North Carolina telecom company, Madison River Communications, blocked their DSL customers from using the Vonage VoIP service. Service was restored after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) intervened and entered into a consent decree that had Madison River pay a fine of $15,000.[6]
  • In 2005, Canadian telephone giant Telus blocked access to voices-for-change.ca, a website supporting the company's labor union during a labor dispute, as well as over 600 other websites, for about sixteen hours after pictures were posted on the website of employees crossing the picket line.[7]
  • In April 2006, Time Warner's AOL (America On-Line) blocked all e-mails that mentioned dearaol.com, an advocacy campaign opposing the company's pay-to-send e-mail scheme. An AOL spokesman called the issue an unintentional glitch.
  • In February 2006, some of Cox Cable's customers were unable to access Craig's List because of a confluence of a software bug in the Authentium personal firewall distributed by Cox Cable to improve customers' security and the way that Craigslist had their servers misconfigured. Save the Internet said this was an intentional act on the part of Cox Cable to protect classified ad services offered by its partners. The issue was resolved by the correction of the software as well as a change in the network configuration used by Craig's List. Craig's List founder Craig Newmark stated that he believed the blocking was unintentional.
  • In September 2007, Verizon Wireless prevented a pro-choice organization from sending text messages to its members coordinating a public demonstration, despite the fact that the intended recipients had explicitly signed up to receive such messages.
  • In October 2007, Comcast was found to be preventing or at least severely delaying uploads on BitTorrent.
COMMENTARY: All this seems great in theory but it still seems to indicate that tiered network access is coming and carriers are still going to largely be able to control and discriminate packets across their network. Is that good for companies who want open access like Skype, Google, Slingbox who don't control the pipes? I suppose it depends upon which tier of access they end up on. Hopefully its the top tier.

Related Net Neutrality articles:
Verizon's Seidenberg blasts net neutrality as debate continues
AT&T urges employees to lobby FCC against net neutrality
Democrats, Internet firms lobby FCC on net neutrality
Net neutrality debate heats up ahead of vote
Opposing net neutrality, GOP puts pressure back on FCC

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