FCC crafting net neutrality rules

Draft would allow for 'reasonable' management by ISPs

NEW YORK -- After years of debate between telecom, cable and Internet companies, the FCC is looking to start crafting rules to ensure "network neutrality," or restricting Internet network operators from favoring some content and data over other.

Under the leadership of new chairman Julius Genachowski, the FCC voted Thursday to adopt a so-called Notice of Proposed Rulemaking with an open Internet as the goal, which will allow it to begin writing regulatory rules on the much-discussed topic.

The FCC's draft rule would allow for "reasonable" network management by Internet service providers though for such things as blocking child pornography and other unlawful content, blocking content infringing on copyrights, clearing viruses and spam, as well as unclogging congestion.

The two other Democratic commissioners support Genachowski's vision. The agency's two Republican commissioners also voted in favor of starting the rule-making process, but remain opposed to the idea of more regulation of the Web.

Once the FCC has crafted rules that take into account public comments due Jan. 14, the agency is expected to vote on them by the summer.

Net neutrality is Genachowski's first key policy issue, and it will likely remain a hotly contested one.

"Net neutrality" refers to the principle that Internet providers should not restrict or delaying access to certain Web sites. Web providers like cable and telco firms have said they need the right to manage their data networks as video, peer-to-peer sharing and other sites take up increasing amounts of bandwidth. Consumer advocates, Google and other online giants are concerned that access to sites could be blocked or delayed.

"We support a free and open Internet," said Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of cable industry trade group NCTA. "However, we continue to believe the broadband marketplace is an unparalleled American success story and already offers consumers an open Internet experience." He warned that regulation could hurt investment and job creation.

MPAA chairman Dan Glickman applauded "the decision of the FCC to recognize the critical role of legitimate content in the continuing development of the Internet."

The agency's notice of proposed rulemaking "makes clear that reasonable network management includes the ability to stop unlawful distribution of content online," he said. "Although we are not proponents of government regulation of the Internet, by highlighting the importance of intellectual property in this way, the Commission signaled that American creativity and ingenuity, and millions of related jobs will be preserved."

Glickman added that the MPAA is looking forward to working with the FCC "to craft policies that will lead to widespread broadband adoption, greater consumer choice, and preservation of American intellectual property online."

Also on Thursday, Genachowski named 2006 "Survivor" winner Yul Kwon to the post of deputy chief of the FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau.