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Net Neutrality Here and Abroad

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Recently the US’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved new net neutrality rules despite the storm of protest that ensued.  According to Rasmussen, 54 percent of American voters opposed the new rules, and 56 percent believe that the FCC will use the rules and its authority to promote a political agenda.  What do the net neutrality rules mean for the US, and where is the UK on this issue?

The FCC’s rules break down into three categories:  transparency, no blocking, and no unreasonable discrimination. 

Transparency.  Providers of both fixed and wireless networks must disclose their management practice, network performance, commercial terms of broadband service, and other information as prescribed by the FCC.  According to the FCC, this is to “ensure that consumers and innovators have the information they need to understand capabilities of broadband services.

No blocking.  Providers of fixed networks cannot block lawful content and “non-harmful” devices or those that directly compete with their own services.

No discrimination.  Fixed providers cannot discriminate against lawful traffic. 

Chairman Julius Genachowski supported adopting the rules, saying that the “freedom and openness of the Internet is unprotected.” Chairman Genachowski adds, “On one end of the spectrum, there are those who say government should do nothing at all. On the other end of the spectrum are those who would adopt a set of detailed and rigid regulations.  I reject both extremes in favor of a strong and sensible framework – one that protects Internet freedom and openness and promotes robust innovation and investment.”

One of those on the other end of the spectrum is FCC Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell, who said that the decision “marks one of the darkest days in recent FCC history.”  McDowell says the Internet is not broken and doesn’t need fixing and that the FCC does not have the legal authority to issue the rules.”  McDowell and fellow Republican Commissioner, Meredith A. Baker, were the dissenting voices on the 5 member FCC commission, but they speak for a majority of Americans who oppose having internet rules in place.

Net neutrality is also an issue in the UK, where major telecom BT has recently become the focus of the debate.  BT has developed a plan that will let ISPs charge suppliers more for high-quality content like HD video and streaming services.  These high-bandwidth services would pay more under BT’s Content Connect system.

While this could improve speed, the Open Rights Group responded by saying, “It is essentially them saying, ‘Rather than delivering whatever content is on the internet as best we can, here are our services that we will deliver through our own network.”  The fear is that certain content will be given preferential treatment and a “two tier” internet will result.

BT’s spokesperson said, “BT supports the concept of net neutrality, but believes that service providers should also be free to strike commercial deals, should content owners want a higher quality or assured service delivery.”

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