Tech companies form group to study net neutrality

A group of technology and telecom companies has launched a new broadband technical advisory committee that will look into ways to resolve net neutrality issues and other network management challenges.

The new committee, called the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group, or TAG, will attempt to bring together engineers and other technical experts to develop consensus on broadband network management practices and related issues, TAG said in a press release. TAG will focus on educating U.S. policymakers on technical issues and on addressing technical issues in an effort to minimize policy disputes, the group said.

The group will try to inform federal agencies, including the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, and the U.S. Department of Justice, about the technical issues surrounding network management, the group said in a press release.

Professor Dale Hatfield of the University of Colorado will serve as facilitator for TAG. Hatfield is a former chief technologist at the FCC who now serves as executive director of the Silicon Flatirons Center, a technology and law policy center at the University of Colorado.

Among the companies participating in forming TAG are AT&T, Cisco Systems, Comcast, DISH Network, EchoStar, Google, Intel, Level 3 Communications, Microsoft, Time Warner Cable and Verizon Communications.

"The TAG will function as a neutral, expert technical forum and promote a greater consensus around technical practices within the Internet community," Hatfield said in a statement.

Participants will formalize the structure of TAG in the near future, the group said. The group hopes to have representatives from universities, nonprofits and Internet user communities as well as from participating companies.

Supporters of an FCC effort to create formal net neutrality rules had a mixed reaction to the new advisory committee.

"While there is nothing wrong with industry attempting to identify broadband network management practices that do not harm users, this or any other voluntary effort is not a substitute for the government setting basic rules of the road for the Internet," Free Press policy counsel Chris Riley said in a statement. "Even if this group puts out excellent recommendations, they will be just that -- recommendations."

The FCC should move forward with its rulemaking process to create net neutrality rules, Riley added.

"There must be a separate FCC rulemaking process, which can take the recommendations of this or any other voluntary advisory group into account, but rubber-stamping those recommendations would ignore the agency's mandate to create public policy in the public interest," he said.

Public Knowledge, another group pushing for net neutrality rules, said the advisory committee was no substitute for FCC action.

"We believe there is a role for advisory groups to consult on items of technical importance," said Gigi Sohn, Public Knowledge president. "Given that this advisory group is only just getting off the ground, we are cautiously optimistic that it may do some good."

Public Knowledge will "watch closely" how the advisory committee develops policies and allows others to join, Sohn said in a statement. The group is now "dominated" by telecom companies, she said.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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