Our vote on net neutrality

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The net neutrality framework FCC chairman Julius Genachowski outlined in a speech earlier this week and which will be voted on later this month sustains many of the original goals of neutrality while giving the telcos enough to give a tentative nod of approval, all of which adds up to a meaningful step forward.

While it is still unclear if the FCC has the legal authority to pursue net neutrality (earlier this year a court told the Commission it overstepped its bounds when it told Comcast not to throttle peer-to-peer traffic), thankfully all discussion about gaining that authority by reclassifying broadband services as Title II telecommunications service has evaporated. 

That would have been a messy, litigious affair and stall progress for years.  Genachowski says he is now convinced "we have a sound legal basis" for moving forward, but we won't know for sure until the approach is outlined in detail.Here's what we do know.  The framework -- the FCC's effort to "preserve the freedom and openness of the Internet" by ensuring traffic on the net is treated in a neutral fashion and service providers don't try to enrich themselves at the expense of others -- would require "meaningful transparency" so consumers know what service providers are doing; "prohibit the blocking of lawful content, apps, services"; and ensure a level playing field by including "a bar on unreasonable discrimination in transmitting lawful network traffic."  

That is in keeping with the goals from the beginning. The new stuff the telcos like: "Broadband providers need meaningful flexibility to manage their networks ... to deal with traffic that's harmful ... and to address the effects of congestion."

Service providers, many of them saying they still don't think any new rules are needed, were at least pleased by the concessions. AT&T: "The FCC appears to be embracing a compromise solution." Comcast: "The proposal as described ... strikes a workable balance." Only Verizon blanched, as quoted in The New York Times: "The FCC's authority to act in this area is uncertain." Verizon sees the framework as a stop gap until Congress can pick up the issue.

Indeed, some congressmen are promising just that. According to The Washington Times, Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, "is pushing a bill that would give Congress sole oversight of the Internet."

Besides that being a horrible idea given the ponderous, often misguided nature of Congress when it comes to all things tech, we don't believe Congress would have the stomach for it. After all, some of the biggest names in Internet innovation -- Google, Netflix, Skype, eBay, Yahoo -- are for the neutrality that Blackburn and others decry.

Although three of the five members of the FCC have generally favored neutrality, some don't think this framework goes far enough, so it will be interesting to see if Genachowski can muster the votes later this month. For our part, we like what we see. It is a tenable compromise.

Read more about lan and wan in Network World's LAN & WAN section.

This story, "Our vote on net neutrality" was originally published by Network World.

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