Net Neutrality Comments Flood FCC

Published September 1, 2007

Summer reading at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) included more than 11,000 formal filings and public email comments attempting to persuade the U.S. regulator on the necessity or needlessness of instituting stricter network neutrality controls over major providers of Internet broadband.

Against the backdrop of a market that is leveraging high-speed links to sell voice, Internet, and video services, the FCC will mostly be examining already well-trod ground articulated by pro-and-con net neutrality forces over the past couple of years.

Regulators also will be looking to detect any examples of specific problems that users and customers have encountered with big service providers or hints of predatory or unfair behavior.

The FCC’s Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on what it calls “broadband industry practices” currently serves as the agency’s prime venue for the public to air viewpoints and recommendations on the highly polarized net neutrality issue. (See “FCC Opens Broadband Inquiry,” IT&T News, July 2007.)

Odds Against Net Neutrality?

Going into the debate, the odds appear to be against stronger net neutrality rules. The two Democrat (minority) commissioners have advocated at least some sort of “protections” on interconnection and peering among telecom network, content, and other service providers.

Presumably speaking on behalf of the three-member Republican majority, FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin more than once has said he isn’t convinced of any necessity for enforced neutrality, which he views as addressing a nonexistent problem.

Martin’s viewpoint is shared by the influential Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is sometimes involved in coordinated enforcement actions with FCC. FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoris has played down net neutrality’s urgency, and a 170-page FTC staff report released in June concluded existing broadband provider conduct created no significant market failures or demonstrable consumer harm. (See story, page 6.)

Even so, the FCC has already felt and responded to lawmaker pressure on the NOI’s eventual outcome, to the point of imposing “open access” measures–essentially net neutrality equivalents–in upcoming wireless broadband spectrum auctions. (See story, page 1.)

Polarizing Debate Continues

Input on the polarizing topic continues unabated from academia as well. A study by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, AT&T Labs, and the University of Nevada at Reno essentially offers an anti-net neutrality conclusion by suggesting neutral networks–where all Internet traffic is treated identically–would require significantly more capacity than one in which differentiated services are offered.

A University of Florida study, by contrast, claims if the industry were allowed to move Internet architecture away from its original foundation based on end-to-end transmission neutrality, fewer infrastructure investments and service upgrades would result, not more.

Frank Barbetta ([email protected]) writes from Little Falls, New Jersey.