FCC neutrality rules get mixed reception

As expected the party-line 3 to 2 vote in favour of the FCC’s new Net Neutrality rules got mixed reviews. President Obama congratulated the FCC and said that the government would “remain vigilant and see to it that innovation is allowed to flourish, that consumers are protected from abuse, and that the democratic spirit of the Internet remains intact.”

Barry Diller, chairman of the IAC/InterActive Corporation, said he thought the FCC had achieved “as much as could be done.” The rules of the road, he said, are “going to deter the bad behaviour that I think was coming closer and closer.”

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski reiterated that the FCC would “fulfill its historic role as a cop on the beat.” But there was considerable disagreement about whether the FCC had the legal authority to go forward with the rules under the terms of the current Communications Act. Verizon said the FCC order “appears to assert broad authority for sweeping new regulation of broadband wireline and wireless networks and the Internet itself” without “solid statutory underpinnings.” In the long term, Verizon said, “that is harmful to consumers and the nation.” The FCC had earlier abandoned a plan to bring the Internet under the stricter regime for common carriers, something it was prevented from doing in court action when it tried to sanction Comcast for traffic management.

Others were more complimentary; Comcast and Time Warner Cable each said the FCC had struck a “workable balance,” and AT&T said the compromise appeared “to balance major differences.”

Wireless was treated differently, Genachowski said, because it has “unique technical issues” and is at a more nascent stage of growth. “Any reduction in Internet openness would be a cause for concern, as would any reduction in innovation and investment in mobile broadband applications, devices or networks that depend on Internet openness.”

While wireless carriers will be able to block various apps and services, they won’t be able to block basic Web sites or any apps that compete with their own voice and video products.

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