FCC Chief Promises Industry More Spectrum -- and Net Neutrality Rules

By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 8, 2009

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday said that recent moves by wireless companies to open their networks to more services do not eliminate the need for broader rules to force providers to allow equal access to Web content.

The remarks by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski came after steps by the top cellphone service operators -- AT&T and Verizon Wireless -- to open their networks more broadly. He commended those actions, but said that the FCC needed to expand "net neutrality" rules that would ensure consumers access to any legal content of their choice.

"I believe it will be essential to ensure that the Internet remains open -- a vibrant platform for innovation and investment, creativity and speech, an enduring engine for job creation and economic growth," Genachowski said in a speech at a conference in San Diego hosted by the wireless association CTIA. "That is why I said two weeks ago that the FCC should codify a fair and common-sense framework to preserve an open Internet. And later this month, I expect that the FCC will begin an open proceeding to explore how best to do so."

Industry executives warned, however, that more regulation of their industry could hamper growth. "Before we begin 'fixing' what isn't broken, we need to be thoughtful about the consequences . . . We believe the marketplace today is vibrant, and there is no need to burden the mobile Internet with onerous new regulations," Ralph de la Vega, chief executive of AT&T Mobility, said in a statement.

AT&T on Tuesday said that it would run Internet voice applications for the iPhone on its wireless network. Previously, Internet services such as Skype were denied for iPhone users except when using a WiFi connection. Verizon announced the same day that it is pairing up with Google to develop phones based on the Android operating system, which is open to any application.

The wireless industry has complained that any new rules for broadband operators shouldn't apply to the wireless industry. AT&T and Verizon Wireless officials have pointed to the different technical aspects of wireless networks that aren't as robust as wireline networks. If they don't manage traffic to ease congestion, some users will have to deal with slow or dropped service, they say.

Genachowski said his proposal for new rules isn't meant to be "heavy-handed and prescriptive."

"I also recognize that the wireless industry has its own market structure and competitive landscape, which of course we'll analyze in our proceeding," he said.

In his speech, Genachowski introduced a four-part plan to encourage growth in the mobile industry. The plan included getting more spectrum for wireless networks in response to the CTIA's call for 800 mHz of spectrum. More spectrum could also be drawn through unlicensed sources like WiFi, he said.

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