As the U.S. Federal Communications Commission moves toward developing formal net neutrality rules, some U.S. lawmakers and telecom-related companies have told the agency that new regulations will cause more problems than they're worth.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced last month that he would seek to develop formal rules prohibiting Internet service providers from selectively blocking or slowing Web content and applications. On Oct. 22, the commission is scheduled to vote on a notice of proposed rulemaking for net neutrality rules, the first step toward developing those regulations.
But 44 companies sent a letter, dated Wednesday, to the FCC saying new regulations could hinder the development of the Internet.
"Until now, the innovators who are building the Internet and creating the advancements in telemedicine, education and the vast array of other online products and services have done so in an environment driven by competition and innovation," said the letter, signed by Cisco Systems, Alcatel-Lucent, Corning, Ericsson, Motorola and Nokia. "We believe government's role in the Internet should be to support investment, jobs and new technologies, especially if they increase the opportunity for all Americans to connect online."
Instead, new net neutrality rules could prohibit broadband providers from offering advanced and well-managed networks, the companies said.
"Public policy should encourage more investment to expand access to the Internet, whether it is access through a cell phone, a laptop, a PC or any new device that we have yet to imagine," the letter said. "If the FCC takes a prescriptive approach to new regulations, then it could place itself in the position of being the final arbiter of what products and services will be allowed on the Internet."
A day earlier, a group of 18 Republican U.S. senators also sent a letter to Genachowski raising concerns about net neutrality regulations. Broadband is growing while other segments of the U.S. economy are struggling, and there have been only a couple of examples of broadband providers blocking or slowing Web content, said the letter, spearheaded by Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican.
"When the government picks winners and losers in the marketplace, the incentive to invest disappears," the letter said. "We fear that the proposals you announced ... will be counterproductive and risk harming the great advancements in broadband speed and deployment that we have witnessed in recent years and will limit the freedom of the Internet."
Net neutrality backers say new rules are necessary to protect the open nature of the Internet. The FCC in 2005 relaxed rules requiring network providers to share their networks with competitors and without a net neutrality rule, powerful, large broadband providers could shut out Web sites or applications, net neutrality advocates say.
Net neutrality rules would protect innovators and small businesses that want equal access to broadband networks from large companies that can enter into deals with network providers, said Art Brodsky, communications director for Public Knowledge, a digital rights advocacy group.
Since 2005, the FCC has enforced a set of net neutrality principles on a case-by-case basis, but it has never made formal regulations. Broadband provider Comcast filed a lawsuit challenging the FCC's authority to enforce the principles after the agency ruled in August 2008 that Comcast had to stop slowing peer-to-peer traffic in the name of network management.
Broadband providers and others opposed to net neutrality are engaged in a coordinated effort to stop the FCC effort in its tracks, Brodsky said. Arguments that net neutrality rules will stop telecom investments in networks are "nonsense and insulting," he said. "All [some] industries do is threaten and bully. It's like they're saying, 'If we don't get what you want, then you're not going to get your network.'"
Telecom providers operated under network neutrality-like rules for more than 70 years and investment continued, Brodsky said.
Telecom providers and their allies "have all the resources, Democrats and Republicans, that they've traditionally called upon, and it will obviously be incumbent on those of us who want a free and open and nondiscriminatory Internet to make the case," he added.
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