FCC Chaiman Julius Genachowski outlined a number of new principles today that will guide the commission's rulemaking with regards to net neutrality. As Genachowski points out, openness was a key factor that made the Internet the success it has become. While the FCC never adopted any formal rules with regards to net neutrality, the commission adopted a set of four policy principles in 2005. Today, Genachowski announced that the FCC will begin the rulemaking process to formalize these principles and also announced two additional principles that should guide this process: non-discrimination and transparency.

In addition, the FCC also announced the launch of OpenInternet.gov, a site that will track the progress of this undertaking.

Why Do We Need Net Neutrality?

In his speech, Genachowski lists three reasons for why we need to be concerned about the future of the Internet:

  • limited competition among service providers
  • broadband providers, who generally sell phone service and cable TV subscriptions, and whose "rational bottom-line interests may diverge from the broad interests of consumers in competition and choice"
  • as the Internet has grown, technologies for managing networks have become more sophisticated, but these tools "cannot by themselves determine the right answers to difficult policy questions -- and they raise their own set of new questions"

Back in 2004, then-Chairman Michael Powell proposed a set of four principles (PDF) based on the idea that ISPs should not be allowed to prevent users from accessing any lawful part of the Internet or from attaching "non-harmful" devices to the network. Today, Julius Genachowski proposed to add two more principles to this list.

Principle of Non-Discrimination

The fifth principle is one of non-discrimination -- stating that broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications.

This means that ISPs would not be allowed to block or degrade lawful traffic over their networks or favor some content or applications over others. An ISP could not, for example, give its subscribers faster access to its own streaming video site, but slow down similar content from another site that is owned by a competitor.

Principle of Transparency

The sixth principle is a transparency principle -- stating that providers of broadband Internet access must be transparent about their network management practices.

Today, we often have to wonder if our ISP is actually shaping traffic and purposely slowing our torrent downloads. Google even got so worried about this topic that it released a number of tools that allow consumers to check if their ISPs are engaged in traffic shaping. If adopted, this would mean that broadband providers will have to disclose what kind of protocols they are blocking and how they are managing traffic on their networks.

According to Genachowski, the FCC has "an obligation to ensure that the Internet is an enduring engine for U.S. economic growth, and a foundation for democracy in the 21st century. We have an obligation to ensure that the Internet remains a vast landscape of innovation and opportunity." While he acknowledges that some parties would argue that innovation and investment are exactly the reasons why the government shouldn't adopt open Internet rules, Genachowski argues that an open Internet will ultimately benefit both consumers and businesses and that an open Internet "is the best thing we can do to promote investment and innovation."

As Kevin C. Tofel notes on jkOnTheRun, it is important to note that all of these principles will apply to platforms that have access to the Internet - including mobile devices. This could have major ramifications for mobile ISPs. For more about this, see Tofel's blog post which focuses on exactly what these rules could mean for mobile service providers and consumers.

Join the Discussion

If you want to join the discussion, the new OpenInternet.gov site allows for (moderated) comments. What's your point of view? Should the government take a more active role in keeping the Internet free and open, or is this an oxymoron and we should just let the market regulate itself?