FCC's Genachowski proposes light rules for wireless net neutrality

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski outlined a new net neutrality proposal for wireless and wired networks and plans to have the commission vote on it at its Dec. 21 meeting.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski introduces his net neutrality proposal in a speech in Washington.The plan, which Genachowski detailed in a speech in Washington, calls for light regulations on wireless carriers. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), T-Mobile USA and others would be prohibited from blocking services like Google Voice and Skype that compete with their own voice and video offerings. However, wireless carriers would not face the same restrictions wired operators would on blocking Web traffic and other applications--a ban on unreasonable discrimination in transmitting lawful network traffic.

"The record in our proceeding reflects both the importance of openness principles to mobile broadband, and the appropriateness of recognizing differences between fixed and mobile broadband," Genachowski said in his speech. "This is not a new point, but one that I've made consistently since the beginning of this proceeding. For example, mobile broadband is at an earlier stage of development than fixed broadband, and is evolving rapidly."

The proposal for wireless networks includes transparency requirements on network management policies and a basic "no-blocking" rule. Genachowski said the FCC would closely monitor the development of mobile broadband and "be prepared to step in to further address anti-competitive or anti-consumer conduct as appropriate."

The proposal would bar wired broadband providers from blocking lawful applications and allow them to offer "specialized services" apart from the open Internet. Companies would have to justify these services though, and show that their use does not detract from investment in the open Internet.

Importantly, the plan does not call for the reclassification of broadband under Title II of the Telecommunications Act as a common-carrier service. That proposal, which Genachowski first floated in May, was vehemently opposed by Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and the CTIA. Since then, AT&T, Verizon and other carriers have aggressively lobbied the FCC on the issue, as have proponents of net neutrality, including public interest groups and the Open Internet Coalition, which represents the likes of Google and Amazon.

Nonetheless, the plan likely will draw fire from the two Republican commissioners on the FCC's five-member panel as well as Republicans in Congress. Genachowski's two fellow Democrats on the commission have called for strong net neutrality rules.

The FCC's progress on net neutrality stalled in April when a federal appeals court ruled that the agency had overstepped its legal authority when it cited Comcast in 2008 for interfering with subscribers' access to peer-to-peer file sharing services. The ruling, Comcast v. FCC, said the FCC could not rely on its "ancillary jurisdiction" under Title I of the Telecommunications Act to regulate how Comcast managed its network.

For more:
- see the text of Genachowski's remarks
- see this NYT article
- see this Washington Post article
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Politico article

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Article update Dec. 1 with remarks from Genachowski.