FCC Says It Will Impose ‘Net Neutrality’ If Needed

Q Boyer
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — In 2005, the Federal Communications Commission established an Internet policy based on a handful of central principles. On Monday, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said the commission will step in to force network operators to adhere to those principles if it determines a need to do so.

In prepared remarks made Monday at a hearing held by the FCC at Harvard Law School, Martin and other FCC commissioners said that in order to determine whether network operators are conforming to the spirit of the guidelines set down in 2005, operator processes and policy decisions need to be clear and transparent.

Noting that the FCC’s guidelines set down in 2005 were subject to “reasonable network management” on the part of network operators, Martin said that the question now is “what are reasonable network practices?”

“Obviously network operators can take reasonable steps to manage traffic, but they cannot arbitrarily block access,” Martin said. “Consumers have alleged that operators are blocking or degrading consumers’ access to the Internet by distinguishing between certain peer-to-peer applications. Consumers have alleged that these operator practices have not been transparent. These are very significant issues.”

Martin said that the FCC has the dual responsibility to “[create] an environment that promotes infrastructure investment and broadband deployment,” while “[ensuring] that consumers’ access to content on the Internet is protected.”

Martin stopped short of saying that network operators are, in fact, engaged in behavior that does not comport with the FCC’s guidelines, and said that today’s hearing “will allow us to better monitor this market and determine the extent to which providers are acting consistently with our Internet Policy Statement.”

If the FCC determines that there is a problem with network operator behavior, Martin said the commission is “ready, willing, and able to step in if necessary.”

Commissioner Michael J. Copps echoed Martin’s call for transparency, citing an old Washington saying: “Decisions made without you are usually decisions against you.”

“That kind of business-as-usual decision-making doesn’t cut it for something this important,” Copps said.

Copps referenced several events that took place last year in support of the need for the FCC to consider imposing network neutrality requirements on providers, including one instance in which a “leading network operator bleeped the web broadcast of a performer who criticized the president’s stand on Iraq.”

“I’m not saying that any of these practices are unlawful,” Copps said. “But I am saying that choices like these, when you add them all together, are determining what kind of Internet we are going to have in the future — what we can say over the Internet, how we say it, where we can go, what information we will encounter, and how we will access it.… In other words, how this all turns out is a very, very big deal.”