Internet Providers Push Back Against 'Net Neutrality'

By Wall St. Journal, Wall St. Journal - September 22, 2009

WASHINGTON -- Phone and cable companies expressed concern about proposed rules that would prohibit Internet service providers from slowing competitors' Web traffic or impeding access to legal Web content.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski speaks at the Brookings Institution on Monday.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, in a speech Monday, proposed putting teeth into current guidelines on so-called net neutrality by making them full-fledged rules, and extending them to wireless carriers.

"The bar needs to be set very high when it comes to additional government intervention," said USTelecom, the phone industry's lobbying group. Cable giant Comcast Corp. said it will "be incredibly important for the agency to review the data to determine whether there are actual and substantial problems that may require rules."

Large phone and video providers, including Comcast, Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc., have argued the government shouldn't tell them how to manage their Internet networks. Wireless providers are worried that a surge in bandwidth-consuming applications such as video downloads could hobble their networks unless they are allowed to control the flow.

For consumers, the proposed FCC action would mean that any Internet provider -- whether wireless, cable or DSL -- would be prohibited from blocking or slowing access to video or phone services. For example, Comcast or AT&T couldn't feed video to a subscriber from one of their online video services faster than they allow feeds from a rival service, such as Netflix Inc.

The FCC's proposed rules wouldn't prohibit Internet providers from experimenting with consumer pricing plans or raising prices. It also wouldn't prohibit Internet providers from charging high-volume users more for service.

Wireless firms have never been subjected to the same kind of open Internet scrutiny as companies providing hard-wired cable or DSL-type Internet connections. AT&T said it supports the principle of "an open Internet," and the company would support the FCC's efforts to beef up its legal authority to enforce its rules, but the phone giant said it had concerns about expanding the rules to cover wireless networks.

The company would be "very disappointed if [the FCC] has already drawn a conclusion to regulate wireless services despite the absence of any compelling evidence of problems or abuse that would warrant government intervention," said Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs.

FCC officials said they would work with phone companies to develop rules that wouldn't create problems for wireless networks.

The proposals drew opposition from some Republicans. Six Republican senators on Monday introduced a measure that would cut the FCC's funding to "develop and implement new regulatory mandates." Meanwhile, the two Republicans on the FCC's board said they weren't convinced the agency faced widespread problems of Internet providers blocking or slowing traffic that needed to be addressed with new rules.

But with three Democrats on the five-member commission, Mr. Genachowski has enough support to pass his plans. He said he wants the FCC to launch a formal rule-making process in October. The specific language of the rules won't be released until next month at the earliest.

Mr. Genachowski is a long-time advocate of government action to require that all Web traffic be treated the same by providers. "I am convinced that there are few goals more essential in the communications landscape than preserving and maintaining an open and robust Internet," Mr. Genachowski said in his speech Monday at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

Strengthening FCC rules on Web traffic is a top priority of consumer groups and Internet advocates who supported President Barack Obama in his run for the White House.

The FCC "took an important step in ... ensuring that the Internet remains a platform for innovation, economic growth, and free expression," wrote Google Inc.'s "Internet Evangelist" Vint Cerf, on a company blog.

Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey, a Democrat who has proposed legislation putting so-called net neutrality rules into law, called the proposal "a significant step towards preserving the free and open nature" of the Internet.

Write to Amy Schatz at and Fawn Johnson at

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