Will Wireless Carriers Have To Abide By Net Neutrality?

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If the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is right, the U.S. is headed toward "a looming spectrum crisis" if the government does not somehow create more bandwidth for mobile devices. Although the FCC will triple the amount of spectrum available for commercial uses, many industry experts predict wireless traffic will increase 30 times because of bandwidth-heavy applications.

Speaking at CTIA, the Wireless Association's IT & Entertainment conference in San Diego, Julius Genachowski asked: "What happens when we quadruple the number of subscribers with mobile broadband on their laptops or netbooks?" So the challenge is finding more spectrum.

One way, according to the FCC, could be through Net neutrality rules. Under the rules, a carrier would not be allowed to throttle back heavy bandwidth users -- something Comcast took the heat for doing earlier this year. Supporters say that Net neutrality is about equal access to the Internet. Carriers oppose Net neutrality, saying it will stifle competition and investment. Supporters argue also that if Net neutrality rules are not enacted, carriers will start enacting "pay to play" plans, charging subscribers based on usage.

Earlier in the week, AT&T said it would let iPhone owners use Internet calling services on its wireless network. Until now, AT&T allowed Internet calling services to work on the iPhone only over Wi-Fi connections. "Opening wireless services to greater consumer choice will drive investment and innovation in the mobile marketplace," Genachowski said in a statement.

While Genachowski praised AT&T's decision, he gave no clue that he was deterred from regulating broadband providers to prohibit them from favoring certain types of Internet traffic flowing over their lines. The FCC will vote on the proposed rules in October.

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