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Preserving a Free and Open Internet [video]

Posted December 2nd, 2010 by George Krebs

In his clarion call yesterday morning Chairman Julius Genachowski laid out a proposal for basic rules of the road to preserve the open Internet as a platform for innovation, investment, job creation, competition, and free expression.

These rules rest on three basic tenets:
1) Americans have the freedom to access lawful content on the Internet, without discrimination
2) Consumers have the right to basic information about your broadband service
3) The Internet will remain a level playing field.

This proposal is deeply rooted in history. The grounding ideas were first articulated by Republican Chairmen Powell and Martin and, in 2005, endorsed in a unanimous FCC policy statement. Chairman Genachowski cited the many months of hard work leading up to this moment – hard work across government, industry and broadband providers – and the substantial response received from the engaged public.

Watch the HD video below
(This is cross-posted on the Open Internet Blog. Please leave comments there.)

Posted in Office Of Chairman
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The Perfect, the Good, and the FCC

Posted December 1st, 2010 by Kevin Werbach

Guest Post by Kevin Werbach

It has been a busy week in U.S. communications policy, with an FCC meeting adopting important spectrum policy reforms, an FCC complaint about Comcast’s approval policies for cable modems, and a dispute between Comcast and Level 3 over fees for Internet backbone traffic.  And late last night, it got even more interesting.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski reportedly circulated a draft Open Internet order, to be considered at the FCC’s December 21 meeting.  According to a statement given to reporters, the order builds on the compromise terms from Congressional negotiations led by Representative Henry Waxman this fall.  What does that mean?  I’m confident of two things: Hardly anyone will like the proposal; and it’s the right thing to do.

Advocates of network neutrality will be disappointed the FCC isn’t going forward with “reclassification” of broadband access as a regulated telecommunications service, while many Republicans and network operators will complain about a “power grab” to “regulate the Internet” even after Democratic losses in the midterm elections.  Both should  put aside their ideologies and look realistically at the situation.  Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

If you believe in the need to protect the open Internet, this is the realistic way forward, and it could lay the groundwork for other steps if necessary in the future.  If you see network neutrality as a dangerous drag on Internet investment, this is the realistic way to remove that regulatory overhang. Kill this proposal, and it’s hard to envision anything but years of further uncertainty, most likely ending with a worse compromise down the road. I don’t love it either, but I’m a realist.  The fate of network neutrality will hinge not on the FCC’s rhetoric, but on its implementation.  There can’t be implementation without an order.  And I can’t see any other order making it through in the current environment.

It’s important to understand how we got here.

It seems like the network neutrality fight has been going on forever.  When I entered academia in 2004, I thought the issues were pretty well developed.  Concerns about closed, discriminatory broadband networks, which I and others started writing about five years earlier, were widely recognized. The outcome also seemed pretty clear.  Even FCC Chairman Michael Powell, a Republican who favored deregulation of broadband access networks, acknowledged the importance of an open Internet.  He gave a speech setting forth four “Internet freedoms” which should be protected to ensure innovation and consumer choice.  A year later, the FCC memorialized those principles in a policy statement, and the Supreme Court ratified the FCC’s deregulatory classification of broadband on the theory that it retained the power to act when it found the justification.  The only question was how the FCC would actually move forward when issues arose.

Fast forward through five years of loud, contentious fights.  We’re pretty much still in the same place.  The FCC’s one attempt to take more specific action, its 2008 order against Comcast’s network management practices, was overturned in court earlier this year.  This uncertainty benefits no one.  It hurts those in favor of network neutrality the most, because companies are moving forward with infrastructure investments and business strategies that become difficult to unwind after the fact.  We’ve already seen exclusive content deals like ESPN3 and TV Anywhere take hold.  There are reports of application blocking and other restrictions on wireless networks.  And now, Comcast and Level 3 opening up a can of worms in the backbone market.  The FCC might find these practices legitimate, but until it’s operating under a defined legal and procedural framework, it can’t even make that assessment.

The network neutrality battle is frequently posed as a binary choice: inaction or reclassification.  In fact, neither is realistic.  Concerns about the open Internet won’t go away if the FCC does nothing now.  Comcast’s clumsy 2008 response to peer-to-peer file-sharing traffic won’t be the last time a network operator provokes popular and Congressional ire.  And broadband will only become more important and economically significant.  In other words, network neutrality rules will be on the FCC docket indefinitely, until the agency takes a concrete step forward.  Again, I say this with the perspective of someone who has watched this issue now for a dozen years.

On the other side, whatever the merits of the reclassification path, it’s not going to happen.  There may have been a window of opportunity earlier this year, but it closed.  A majority of the members of the House of Representatives signed on to a letter opposing the idea, and one could scarcely create a better issue to draw the united fire of grassroots Tea Party activists, the most powerful bipartisan corporate lobbying interests, and Republicans eager to take down the Obama Administration.  I could imagine an FCC Chairman risking everything to push reclassification at any cost, but I can’t say I’d recommend that to Chairman Genachowski now.  Especially when there’s an alternative that achieves the same objectives.

Keep in mind that reclassification itself doesn’t make Net neutrality happen, even if the FCC order survives the court challenge. It gives the agency legal authority and a set of precedents, but applying those precedents to contemporary broadband practices will still be a painstaking process. Everyone knows the 1996 Telecommunications Act is outdated in this converged digital era.  Anything the FCC does is a necessary stopgap until Congress replaces it, a process likely to take several years.  The open Internet is the principle worth fighting for, not a particular legal theory.

While there is no guarantee of success under the approach Chairman Genachowski has chosen either, there is a good legal basis to support it.  The Supreme Court in the 2005 Brand X case expressly stated that Title I “ancillary authority” gave the FCC some authority to adopt broadband rules.  And the court that overturned the FCC’s Comcast order actually provided a roadmap for a successful do-over, by emphasizing what the Commission failed to argue then.  This new approach would parallel what I proposed in a law review article, Off the Hook, published at the beginning of this year. The FCC picked the wrong statutory provision in Comcast, and its sloppiness in the proceeding under prior Chairman Kevin Martin undermined its legal case.  The current Chairman won’t make those mistakes.

It’s not the most satisfying solution, but it’s the best option today.

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Disclosure: I co-led the FCC review for the Obama Administration’s Transition Team in 2008, and advised the FCC and National Telecommunications & Information Administration in 2009.  My FCC consulting engagement ended before Chairman Genachowski developed the current proposal, and these are entirely my personal views.

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Cross-posted from Werblog.com

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Preserving a Free and Open Internet

Posted December 1st, 2010 by Julius Genachowski - Chairman, Federal Communications Commission.

 After months of hard work we have reached an important milestone in the fight to protect a free and open Internet for all Americans. 

Today, the FCC proposed basic rules of the road to preserve the open Internet as a platform for innovation, investment, job creation, competition, and free expression. If adopted later this month, these basic rules will mean several things for consumers, namely:

1. Americans have the freedom to access lawful content on the Internet, without discrimination. No one should be able to tell you what you can or can’t do on the Internet, as long as it’s lawful. Our rules will ensure that no central authority—either corporations or government—have the right to decide what you can access on the Internet. 

2. You have a right to basic information about your broadband service.  Our proposed framework will ensure that consumers have information they need to make informed choices about subscribing or using broadband networks. 

3. The Internet will remain a level playing field. The ability for consumers to speak their mind, engage in commerce and innovate without permission from a corporation has enabled the Internet’s unparalled success.  Our rules will protect against corporate gatekeepers prioritizing access to one person’s content over another’s.

The openness of the Internet has enabled unparalleled innovation and job growth, yet we continue to find examples of this freedom being attacked. We have found instances when broadband providers position themselves as gatekeepers to the Internet, and have prevented consumers from using applications of their choice without disclosing what they were doing.

We must take action to protect consumers against price hikes and closed access to the Internet—and our proposed framework is designed to do just that: to guard against these risks while recognizing the legitimate needs and interests of broadband providers.

I look forward to the very important work ahead as we strive for free and open communications for all Americans.

 

Posted in From The Chairman
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Emergencies Abroad: What Do You Dial?

Posted December 1st, 2010 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau

If you're traveling in Europe and suddenly you need to make an emergency call - what do you do?  Dial “112.”  Don’t call 911 as you would in the United States; that number doesn’t work in Europe.  Dialing 112 from any country in the European Union (EU) will connect you to emergency services, such as police, fire, and ambulance services.  (See the list of European Union member countries.)  Dialing 112 could be a life-saver and is completely free.  You can dial 112 from any mobile phone, landline, or payphone.  In most EU countries, the operator will speak both the local language and English (you can find country specific details). 

If you’re traveling to countries outside of Europe, check the State Department website before you depart to identify the emergency calling number in the countries you’ll be traveling to.  These numbers are available from the State Department.  (Click on the specific country, then search under “Information for Victims of Crime.”)  You will see that “112” also is the emergency calling number in many other countries.  But it is not the number everywhere.  For example, the emergency number in South Africa is “10111.”  And in some countries, there may be variations.  In India, the local equivalent to our “911” emergency number is “100,” but “112” also works on mobile phones; and from a mobile phone in South Korea, the number is “02-112.”  Be aware too that in some countries such as Brazil and Haiti, you have to call a different number for different services.  For example, in Brazil, the number for police is “190,” while the number for fire and medical is “193.”  When traveling abroad, also keep in mind that the response times and services available on the other end of the call may be different than those in your local community in the United States.     

Here is additional international travel information that you may find helpful:

Posted in International Bureau Mobile
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