In letter to Federal Communications Commission, top tech firms push for open Internet rules

Julius Genachowski is the chairman of the FCC.
Julius Genachowski is the chairman of the FCC. (Harry Hamburg - AP)
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By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A number of Silicon Valley titans and early technologists of the Web on Monday urged the Federal Communications Commission to move forward with new rules to prevent Internet providers from favoring one application over another.

The support came as debate over the rules reached a fevered pitch, just days before the FCC is scheduled to vote on whether to begin the rule-making process.

A draft of the proposal continues to be tweaked ahead of the vote Thursday, adjusting language to clarify the agency's approach to "reasonable network management," a FCC official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Monday.

That section of the proposed rules is being closely watched by telecommunications carriers, particularly wireless network operators, who say they need flexibility to manage traffic to avoid data bottlenecks.

The official said the rule-making proposal will include questions intended to draw comments from the public and companies. For instance, commissioners are reworking questions about how carriers will deal with managed services such as telemedicine applications or premium video services over shared broadband facilities, and whether such offerings should fall under new rules.

In advance of Thursday's meeting, 24 executives of Internet content and telecom service companies, including Google, XO Communications, Twitter and Facebook, said in a letter that without a strong anti-discrimination policy, companies like theirs may not get a fair shot on the Internet because carriers could decide to block them from ever reaching consumers.

"America's leadership in the technology space has been due, in large part, to the open Internet," the executives said in the letter. "We applaud your leadership in initiating a process to develop rules to ensure that the qualities that have made the Internet so successful are protected."

Critics warned of "unintended consequences" of such rules, arguing that the Web has always been open for entrepreneurs and companies such as those that sent the letter Monday.

Technologists including Vint Cerf, a co-designer of a communications protocol used as a foundation of the Internet, urged the FCC to adopt a "pro-innovation policy agenda" by adopting new rules. They said concerns that carriers would lose the power to manage their networks is overstated.

"To the contrary, we believe such features are permitted within a 'network neutral' framework, so long as they are not applied in an anti-competitive fashion," the computer scientists wrote.

Cerf is the "chief internet evangelist" for Google, a vocal proponent of net-neutrality rules. The company is likely to benefit from the proposed rules because it would ensure that the search giant's expanding suite of applications such as video, documents, maps and voice products wouldn't be blocked.

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