Government, Industry Battle Lines Being Drawn On Net Neutrality Issue

Battle lines are being drawn between industry and the government over net neutrality in the wake of last week's outlining of a plan by Google and Verizon to give the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the power to enforce, but not create, net neutrality rules.

AT&T on Friday said it is necessary for the FCC to protect wireless broadband services from "onerous new net neutrality regulations."

However, four U.S. Representatives on Monday called for the FCC to be strict in setting up Internet service rules.

The new battle over net neutrality stems from a new new net neutrality plan put forth last week by Google and Verizon that would give Internet service providers the ability to "engage in reasonable network management" to reduce network congestion, ensure networks' security and integrity, and address unwanted traffic and service quality issues. Providers can also be allowed "to prioritize general classes or types of Internet traffic, based on latency; or otherwise to manage the daily operation of its network."

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The two companies, in their joint proposal, said that Internet service providers should be prohibited from preventing customers from accessing lawful content of their choice, running lawful applications and services of their choice and connecting their choice of legal devices.

Providers should also not be allowed to engage in undue discrimination against any lawful Internet content, application or service in a manner that causes "meaningful harm" to competitors or to users, and that "prioritization of Internet traffic would be presumed inconsistent with non-discrimination standard, but the presumption could be rebutted," the companies said.

AT&T on Friday weighed in on the debate on the AT&T Public Policy Blog that wireless broadband providers are being challenged to provide service as the number of wireless portable devices grows to 86 million units in 2010 from 6 million in 2008 and the amount of wireless traffic grows to 3,600,000 TBs per month by 2014 compared to 90 TBs per month in 2009.

Joan Marsh, AT&T vice president of Federal regulatory, wrote that policymakers should reallocate more spectrum from the Commercial Mobile Radio Service (CMRS) for more general use and protect "wireless broadband networks from onerous new net neutrality regulations."

Marsh wrote that cutting those regulations is vital to the continued growth of the industry.

"In order to provide consumers with the high quality wireless broadband services that they demand, wireless carriers must to be able to dynamically manage traffic and operate their networks in an environment free from burdensome, arbitrary and unnecessary regulations," she wrote.

Next: U.S. Representatives Reject The Google-Verizon Plan

Meanwhile, in an open letter on Monday to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, four U.S. Democratic representatives are calling for the FCC to be more strict in its setting up of Internet service rules and reject the Google-Verizon plan.

In that letter, Representatives Jay Inslee of Washington, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Anna Eshoo of California, and Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania said the FCC must have oversight authority for broadband access services in order to "provide the necessary certainty for broadband network operators, broadband users, and Internet innovators alike."

The authors also wrote that any arrangement which allowed a broadband provider to charge different fees for different types of Internet content would add inefficiencies into the market, and that excluding wireless services from open Internet requirements "could widen the digital divide by establishing a substandard, less open experience for traditionally underserved regions and demographic groups that may more often need to access or choose to access the Internet on a mobile device."

Inslee, in a personal blog posting on the Huffington Post, was more direct in his comments, accusing large businesses of cooking up backroom deals that could end online innovation and alter how users use the Internet.

"The most recent threat to a free and open Internet (and the first of what could be a string of these backroom deals) hit a little over a week ago, when Google and Verizon laid out a policy proposal that would do everything to expand service providers' profits but nothing to protect a free and open Internet. Worse, it would have closed down the open model for wireless, the real future of online access. ... Google and Verizon are businesses trying to make a buck -- I guess that's their job. But now it's time for members of Congress to stand with me and tell the FCC to do its job," Inslee wrote.

Andrew Hickey contributed to this story.