Wireless providers wary about net neutrality rules

New FCC proposals on ‘net neutrality’ are already drawing fire from the wireless industry.

Chairman Julius Ganachowski yesterday outlined two new principles, non-discrimination and transparency. ISPs would have to offer an equal service to all, and be open about their practices – and not, for example, block BitTorrent and keep quiet about it, as Comcast did two years ago.

“I want to underscore that this debate, as I see it, isn’t about white hats or black hats among companies in and around the network,” said Ganachowski. “Rather, there are inevitable tensions built into our system; important and difficult questions that we have an obligation to ask and to answer correctly for our country.”

But service providers have mixed feelings about the new proposals. “The internet in America has been a phenomenal success that has spawned technological and business innovation unmatched anywhere in the world,” said Comcast executive vice president David L Cohen. “So it’s still fair to ask whether increased regulation of the internet is a solution in search of a problem.”

AT&T went further, suggesting that the rules were simply not appropriate for wireless services. “We would… be very disappointed if [the FCC] has already drawn a conclusion to regulate wireless services despite the absence of any compelling evidence of problems or abuse that would warrant government intervention,” said the company’s senior vice president of external and legislative affairs, Jim Cicconi, in a statement.

“To paraphrase a recent analyst comment, net neutrality is rooted in an assumption that broadband networks are instantly expandable, to an infinite extent, at little or no cost. To base policy assumptions on such fallacies is to conduct a risky experiment with American broadband investment, nearly all of which is private investment on which our nation depends.”

The new proposals are intended to sit alongside four principles endorsed in a unanimous 2005 policy statement. These basically force network operators to allow users to access content, applications and services of their choice – so long as it’s legal – and to allow users to attach non-harmful devices to the network.