The Federal Communications Commission in the United States of America has issued a ruling on the neutrality of broadband providers after complaints were made about the conflicting interests of broadband providers who serve internet businesses with whom they compete.
The FCC issued a broad defence of the principles of fairness:
“This process has made clear that the Internet has thrived because of its freedom and openness – the absence of any gatekeeper blocking lawful uses of the network or picking winners and losers online. Consumers and innovators do not have to seek permission before they use the Internet to launch new technologies, start businesses, connect with friends, or share their views…
“…Broadband providers have taken actions that endanger the Internet’s openness by blocking or degrading disfavored content and applications without disclosing their practices to consumers. Finally, broadband providers may have financial interests in services that may compete with online content and services.”
The FCC has put together a new series of rules for broadband providers headed: “transparency”, “no blocking” and “no discrimination”. The Commission has also taken a dim view of pay-for-priority, whereby broadband providers could be paid to give priority to particular applications or websites.
The news was welcomed by internet businesses and interests. John Ryan, Assistant Chief Legal Officer of Level 3 Communications, Inc. said:
“Level 3 applauds the landmark ruling by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) setting rules that assure that consumers continue to have unfettered access to the Internet content they want. The objective of the Commission’s order is clear — a call for no impediments to an open Internet. The FCC’s rule against blocking content, combined with its rule calling for no unreasonable discrimination, make clear its intent that broadband providers cannot serve as gatekeepers to companies providing competing content, services or applications to those providers’ customers.
“We look forward to working with Chairman Genachowski and with the other Commissioners and staff to assure that the Internet remains open – open to innovation, open to competition, and open to consumer choice. We are confident that, over time, the Commission can implement these rules in a way that preserves Internet openness and protects competition, without unreasonably regulating the Internet.”
It remains to be seen whether other countries and companies will follow the lead of the FCC and make the ruling a worldwide commitment. The American commitment on the part of the FCC could equally be levelled at other service providers such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft whose competition in retail, search, browsers and technology threatens net neutrality. To rein in the current overreach, would require a co-ordinated and sustained effort on the part of the whole internet industry and community.