In other government regulation of the internet news, the FCC is preparing to vote this month on two new net neutrality principles that would prohibit internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking lawful content transfer, and would require the ISPs to disclose their network management practices.
A concise definition of net neutrality is “a state in which users have the freedom to access the content, services, applications, and devices of their choice.” During the initial growth period of broadband internet the issue was often disregarded, as ISPs shoveled bandwidth to their customers with little restraint. However, in an effort to keep up with the mushrooming demand, cable companies may attempt to throttle individual usage, specifically excluding competition to the benefit of their own services. Comcast was recently accused of the practice of “traffic shaping,” in which it limited or completely blocked uploads of files over popular file-sharing software BitTorrent. The telecommunications industry also faces pressure from neutrality proponents, as seen in AT&T’s decision this month to allow customers to use voice over IP (VoIP) applications (such as Skype) on its celluar network, reversing its prior stance.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski believes that these mandates, combined with the non-binding “Four Internet Freedoms” adopted by the FCC in 2005, will help achieve the fundamental goal of “preserving the openness and freedom of the Internet.” He recently made a pitch at the Future of Music Coalition policy summit, targeting independent artists and labels that might otherwise be suffocated by collusion between big industry players, and giving a shout-out to musical backers of net neutrality including alternative rockers Wilco and Guster, who collaborated on a net neutrality benefit album in 2008. Leading the opposition to the proposed rules are the wireless carriers who have invested large amounts in building their the networks, along with the GOP, which is concerned that the regulations may lead to diminished investment in the burgeoning industry.