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FCC chairman proposes 'net neutrality' regulations

John D. Sutter
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski proposed "open internet" rules on Wednesday.
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski proposed "open internet" rules on Wednesday.
  • FCC proposes what would be the country's first "open internet" rules
  • There is some question about the FCC's legal authority, however
  • The proposed rules don't require the same level of "net neutrality" on the mobile internet

(CNN) -- The Obama administration on Wednesday outlined its plan for the future of an open -- or at least a kind-of-open -- internet.

In a speech to reporters, U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski proposed rules that would require high-speed internet providers to treat all types of internet content equally. In effect, the rules would bar the companies that own the internet's real-world infrastructure from slowing down some types of websites or apps and speeding up other sources of online info.

But the proposed rules stop short of requiring the same level of "net neutrality" on the mobile internet, which Genachowski said is "at an earlier stage of development" and "is evolving rapidly."

That piece of the proposal drew some criticism online. Writing on the Huffington Post, Marvin Ammori called the rules "garbage," in part because they don't support rules to keep the mobile internet as open as possible.

Under the rules, "AT&T Wireless could make its own social network load faster than Facebook, or could make Fox News or MSNBC load faster than CNN or BBC, based on payments," he writes. "While Skype, Facebook, and Fox News could maybe fend for themselves, innovative start-ups will be unable to reach wireless users without permission from gatekeepers like AT&T."

The proposal also would not go so far as to regulate the internet more strictly, like a telecommunications or telephone company. That legal distinction has been somewhat controversial in recent months.

The rules also allow for so-called "tiered pricing" of broadband internet, where broadband companies could charge heavy data users -- or "data hogs," as they've been called -- a premium rate, while letting people who use the internet only for text communications and less data-heavy transmissions pay less for their service.

The five-member commission will vote on the plan on December 21. If it passes, it will go before Congress for approval.

In some ways, the proposal mirrors one that Google and Verizon -- two of the biggest stakeholders in the internet -- released earlier this year.

Genachowski said the rules will foster innovation on the internet.

He also emphasized the FCC's stance that high-speed internet is vital to modern American life. "It's hard to imagine life today without the internet, any more than we could imagine life without running water or electricity," he said.

"Net neutrality" -- a confusing concept that basically refers to the idea that all types of websites and apps should have the opportunity to travel through the internet's pipes at the same rate -- has been in the news primarily since 2007, when then-presidential candidate Barack Obama promised to make it a priority.

"Once providers start to privilege some applications or websites over others, then the smaller voices get squeezed out, and we all lose," Obama said during his campaign, as The Telegraph and HuffPo report.

Many people who are concerned about net neutrality favor regulations to ensure the companies that provide internet service can't slow down certain types of internet content -- like streaming video sites or those that promote peer-to-peer file sharing, for example -- in favor of websites that take up less bandwidth.

Others say such regulations could impede internet freedom.

In a policy statement posted in August, Robert Litan, a senior fellow in economics at the Brookings Institution, wrote that businesses should oppose "net neutrality" regulations because they actually hamper innovation.

"The ability to purchase priority delivery from [internet service providers] would spur innovation among businesses, large and small," he wrote. "Priority delivery would enable certain real-time applications to operate free of jitter and generally perform at higher levels. Absent net neutrality restrictions, entrepreneurs in their garages would devote significant energies trying to topple Google with the next killer application. But if real-time applications are not permitted to run as they were intended, these creative energies will flow elsewhere."

The rules may have trouble passing a commission vote later this month. And Sam Gustin at, a CNN Tech content partner, says they could face opposition in Congress, too.

There's also some question about whether the FCC has the power to enforce net neutrality regulations, as CNET writes. But the commission's chairman said Wednesday he is "satisfied we have a sound legal basis for this approach."

Genachowski described the FCC as a "cop on the beat to protect broadband consumers and foster innovation, investment and competition" online.


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