FTC Goes To The Public On Net Neutrality

    December 8, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

What was pretty much a non-issue less than a year ago has the Federal Trade Commission scratching its head and asking for guidance – finally. The FTC announced it would be hosting a public workshop on “Broadband Connectivity Competition Policy” in Washington, DC in February.

The workshop will be organized by the FTC’s newly formed Internet Access Task Force, first convened by Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras this past August. The FTC says the Task Force seeks to enhance the agency’s expertise in the area of Internet access.

Since that initial meeting, the FTC said “it has heard a wide variety of views on the subjects of broadband Internet access in general and Network Neutrality in particular.”

The polar points of view on the issue apparently sent the FTC’s head spinning trying to understand which side was making a better point. One gets the feeling the telecommunications industry would have won this battle, causing favorable legislation to slide through if not for the massive grass-roots opposition.

The FTC outlined both sides of the issue to be addressed:

In the absence of such regulations, some have raised concerns about broadband Internet service providers discriminating against, degrading, or blocking users’ access to unaffiliated content and applications. In addition, concerns have been raised regarding ISPs and other network operators charging providers of unaffiliated content and applications fees for prioritized delivery of their products to end users. To prevent harm to competition and consumers from these and other related types of conduct, some have advocated network neutrality regulation that would require equal treatment of all Internet traffic.

In response, opponents of network neutrality have argued that such regulation would have adverse consequences for innovation and competition in the market for broadband access by, among other things, making it more difficult for ISPs and other network operators to recoup their investments in broadband networks. Opponents also have argued that such regulation is unnecessary because: 1) to date there is insufficient evidence of harm to competition or consumers to warrant such regulation; 2) competitive conditions in the market for broadband access will protect consumers from the harm anticipated by net neutrality proponents; and 3) the antitrust and consumer protection laws, as well as FCC oversight, are sufficient to address any harms that may arise.

Net Neutrality proponents view the FTC’s willingness to look into issue of Net Neutrality as a positive sign for the future, especially when little was known about it in the public sector and less was known about it in Washington. The sheer weight of the public opinion at least matched (though the balance should be much heavier in reality) the bottomless pockets of the telecommunications industry, which stands to make billions at the expense of the free Internet as we know it.

The February 13-14 workshop, free and open to the public, will be viewable via live Webcast the FTC Website for those unable to attend in Washington. The agency says it will identify and invite individuals with relevant expertise to participate as panelists at the workshop.

For more information about Net Neutrality, visit WebProNews’ extensive past coverage.


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