Critics: 'Net Neutrality' Rules Full Of Loopholes

The FCC voted to adopt new rules for the Internet Tuesday. The 3-2 vote follows years of debate over net neutrality — the idea that phone and cable companies that deliver broadband to millions of Americans should treat all network traffic equally. Broadband providers favor less regulation, while technology companies and consumer advocates continue to push for more.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Let's listen now to the reaction to yesterday's new rules for the Internet. The Federal Communications Commission approved the regulations yesterday. They are intended to ensure what's called net neutrality - that everybody has equal access. President Obama says the rules will encourage innovation and economic growth. Some Republican leaders in Congress say pretty much the opposite. They're promising an unhappy new year for the FCC chairman, as Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE: All year, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has been seeking a compromise on so-called network neutrality the idea that phone and cable companies should treat all the traffic on their broadband networks equally. Despite Genachowski's upbeat tone yesterday, it hasn't been easy.

Mr. JULIUS GENACHOWSKI (Chairman, Federal Communications Commission): We adopted today a strong and balanced order that has widespread support and that focuses on the importance of Internet freedom, the importance of private investment, the importance of business model experimentation. That's why we have so many different people from various parts of the ecosystem supporting it.

ROSE: Lukewarm support did come from the cable industry and AT&T. But in general it was a lot easier to find the doubters. The FCC approved rules that prohibit broadband providers from blocking their rivals' websites and services on the wired Internet, as companies like Netflix and Skype have wanted. But critics, including Andrew Jay Schwartzman at the Media Access Project, say those prohibitions don't go far enough.

Mr. JAY SCHWARTZMAN (Media Access Project): This was inadequate, loophole-ridden. But most of all I'm concerned about the inadequate protection of the wireless Internet.

ROSE: The FCC rules are not as strong when it comes to wireless networks. That was a major concession to phone companies, which say they need more flexibility to manage traffic to and from their mobile customers. Even so, Verizon put out a written statement warning that the rules will have a chilling effect on investment in the broadband industry.

Gerald Faulhaber, a professor emeritus at the Wharton School, doesn't think Verizon or Comcast are going to stop investing in their already lucrative networks.

Professor GERALD FAULHABER (Wharton School): But how about new players? How about new wireless broadband players? What with 4G and all this good stuff coming down the pipe - are they going to want to get into this business?

ROSE: Perhaps the loudest criticism of the net neutrality rules came from Capitol Hill, where Republicans in the House of Representatives vowed to do everything in their power to overturn them. Lee Terry of Nebraska was one of four Republicans who held a conference call with reporters just hours after the FCC vote.

Representative LEE TERRY (Republican, Nebraska): I want to know why, why it was so important that this Lone Ranger, Julius Genachowski, felt it was that important that the FCC gain this much power in one fell swoop, usurping Congressional authority. It's a power play that's almost unprecedented, even in Washington.

ROSE: Even Genachowski's supporters would be hard-pressed to describe him as a matinee hero on a white horse. Those backers include Democrats in Congress and the White House.

His biggest problem may turn out to be the judicial branch. The FCC's rules would allow, quote, "reasonable network management" of the kind broadband providers say they need to keep spammers and other bandwidth hogs at bay. But Gigi Sohn at the non-profit Public Knowledge is worried that the definition of reasonable presents a big loophole.

Ms. GIGI SOHN (Public Knowledge): The rules are so vague. You're going to see years of litigation, not only the courts but here at the FCC, trying to determine what's legal and what's not legal. We would've preferred simple, clear rules.

ROSE: The last time the FCC tried to enforce net neutrality provisions, it was overturned by a federal appeals court. But commission chairman Julius Genachowski predicts that will not happen this time.

Mr. GENACHOWSKI: I'm confident we'll win in court.

ROSE: Genachowski may not have to wait long to find out.

For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.�

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.