Obama, Romney offer contrasting visions on net neutrality

President Obama and Mitt Romney face off today in a presidential election with much at stake, and voters are likely to make their decision based on the economy and other major issues. However, the two candidates offer sharply contrasting visions on net neutrality rules and other technology policy questions.

Obama has long been a champion of net neutrality, and his administration has backed the FCC's push to expand and codify net neutrality rules for wireless and wired networks. Obama named net neutrality supporter Julius Genachowski as the chairman of the FCC, and he threatened to veto a Republican plan last year to undo the FCC's rules, which the commission passed by a 3-2 party line vote in December 2010. 

In contrast, Romney is opposed to net neutrality regulations and has said such rules would make government a "central gatekeeper in the broadband economy." He also said the rules are a "'solution' in search of a problem." He added: "The government has now interjected itself in how networks will be constructed and managed, picked winners and losers in the marketplace, and determined how consumers will receive access to tomorrow's new applications and services."

Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) and MetroPCS (NASDAQ:PCS) have sued the FCC multiple times to block the rules from taking effect. Under the FCC's rules, wireless carriers are barred from blocking services such as Google Voice and Skype that compete with their own voice and video offerings, as well as those in which they have an attributable interest. However, wireless carriers do not face the same restrictions wired operators will on blocking Web traffic and other applications--a ban on unreasonable discrimination in transmitting lawful network traffic.

Wireless carriers also face transparency requirements on network management policies and a basic "no-blocking" rule on lawful content and applications. The no-blocking rule won't generally apply to carriers engaged in the operations of application storefronts. The rules do allow for reasonable network management, which is defined as actions that are "appropriate and tailored to a legitimate network management purpose, taking into account network architecture."

Obama has proposed expanding wireless coverage to cover 98 percent of all Americans by 2016, an ambitious target. As part of that effort, he has backed sharing government spectrum with wireless carriers and the FCC's attempts to free up 300 MHz of spectrum by 2015 and 500 MHz by 2020. Romney insists that overall, Obama's rhetoric on expanding broadband access has fallen short. The Republican platform promises to "encourage public-private partnerships to provide predictable support for connecting rural areas."

For more:
- see this The Verge article
- see this CNET article
- see this TechHive article

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