Commentary

FCC’s Genachowski: Net Neutrality the Rule for Now

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says he will enforce the agency’s network neutrality rules in order to keep the Internet fair, free and open, according to The Hill.

Off the bat, I wonder how “open” the Internet will be if service providers are not allowed to manage the exaflood that consumes more and more bandwidth each month.

If there’s something to be gleaned, Genachowski’s comments seem to be geared toward service provider restraints on consumers. AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, Genachowski says, will not be allowed to charge higher fees for greater broadband use, nor throttle voluminous uploads, as Comcast did with a handful of BitTorrent users. These are steps service providers, who face competition, are loath to take anyway.

Comcast’s approach to BitTorrent was a bit hamfisted, but in the end BitTorrent agreed that the company had a right to look after the interested of the majority of its customers and worked out an agreement. Comcast has since sought a court decision to overturn the FCC fine over the BitTorrent matter. Although net neutrality proponents view the penalty, imposed by Genachowki’s predecessor, Kevin Martin, as a justification for the neutrality regulation, the fine nonetheless was part of a string of dubious anti-cable rulings from the former commissioner that lacked overall policy consistency.

Genachowski, however, said nothing about regulating the business relationship between service providers and Web content and applications suppliers, such as Google, Apple and Microsoft, not to mention the Hollywood studios and TV networks which, far more than consumers, are the chief contributors to the increase of bandwidth consumption. Technically, the FCC’s net neutrality rules do not cover this side of the information supply chain, although legislation in Congress seeks to change this. Will service providers be permitted to charge heavy content suppliers for management and partitioning? Sounds like Genachowski left the door open. It might not be a bad thing.

Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.