US regulators are only deciding whether or not they should begin the process of hammering out new net neutrality rules next Thursday, but you wouldn't think it's so early in the game by the screeching opposition.
The Federal Communications Commission has been showered with letters this week penned by a terrified menagerie of network equipment vendors, broadband providers, mobile phone companies, lobbyists, and politicians – all claiming an open internet would hurt the economy and hinder the spread of high-speed internet networks.
On October 22, the FCC will vote on a proposal to create new net neutrality rules. If the proposal is approved by the five-member commission, the FCC will begin what is sure to be months of plotting the scope and nature of how the government may restrict how service providers control content on their networks.
What has net neutrality opponents so shaken are the suggested policies announced last month by FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, which would prevent operators from selectively blocking or slowing traffic from certain web applications or services. It also calls on ISPs to be "transparent" about their network management practices. Genachowski said his plan is to prevent operators from being able to manipulate what's available on the web based on their own self-interests or squeeze out services that compete against them.
On Thursday, Cisco, Motorola, and 42 other companies scribed a letter to the FCC urging the government to reconsider such regulations. They ask the US government to assume a pay-up and shut-up tact to the internet instead:
"Until now, the innovators who are building the Internet and creating the advancements in telemedicine, education, and the vast array of other online products and services have done so in an environment driven by competition and innovation," the letter said, which also included signatures from Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, and Nokia. "We believe government's role in the Internet should be to support investment, jobs and new technologies, especially if they increase the opportunity for all Americans to connect online."
It goes on to say the proposed net neutrality regulations could prevent web providers from offering US customers advanced and well-managed networks.
Earlier this week, a group of 18 Senate Republicans lead by Sam Brownback, Chuck Grassley, and John McCain signaled their intentions to oppose any efforts to restrict internet providers without clear case studies proving the rules are necessary.
"We fear that the proposals you announced during your September 21, 2009 speech will be counterproductive and risk harming the great advancements in broadband speed and deployment that we have witnessed in recent years and will limit the freedom of the internet," the letter said.
It went on to say "burdensome regulations will have a chilling effect on further private sector investment, at a time when the U.S. Economy can least afford such an impact."
[Note: "great advancements" is a relative concept of course, given that a recent study by the Communications Workers of America found that just 20 per cent of US internet users achieve speeds on par with South Korea, Japan, and Sweden. Eighteen per cent failed to meet the FCC's own definition for "current generation" broadband.]
Not all Democrats are aboard the proposed changes either. On Friday, 72 House Democrats sent a letter to Genachowski, asking the FCC to "carefully consider the full range of potential consequences" of net neutrality.
"Like you, we believe in a transparent, data-driven process and stand ready to work with you on measures that will spur adoption and expand the use of broadband networks," the letter stated. "But we remain suspicious of conclusions based on slogans rather than substance and of policies that restrict and inhibit the very innovation and growth that we all seek to achieve."
The FCC also received a letter from a coalition of minority groups, raising concerns that net neutrality would inhibit broadband access to poorer communities:
"As organizations that serve communities that are among the most severely impacted by a lack of access to technology, we urge you to keep your number one focus on the need to get everyone connected. We are concerned that some of the proposed regulations on the Internet could, as applied, inhibit the goal of universal access and leave disenfranchised communities further behind. We are also concerned that some proposed regulations could inhibit investments being made by companies employing hundreds of thousands of workers and connecting millions to the opportunities that broadband technology afford."
The FCC, for one, seems to welcome having as many people join the debate as possible. It's also taken the unusual step of soliciting further lobbying efforts and opinions through its new openinternet.gov blog. The Commission, however, said postings at the site at this time may not be included in its offical record of proceedings. ®