At the end of September, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski unveiled a plan for net neutrality. This set of rules solidifies the role of internet service providers as pizza guys and not as news networks—that is to say it explicitly disallows blocking or slowing access to specific applications or services. Net neutrality keeps the “tubes” free from the prying eyes and interests of those who deliver the info packets to consumers, thus allowing free speech to not only occur but to be disseminated. The proposed rules uphold the four pillars of network neutrality, which allow consumers to access any lawful online content, application, or services with any legal device in an environment that has sufficient competition among network, content, application, and service providers. It also adds two more basic principles: ISPs will not be able to discriminate against certain applications or information and they must be transparent about their network management practices.
Senator Olympia Snowe and Senator Byron Dorgan are teaming up with Chairman Genachowski, and have begun to discuss legislation that would help scoot along the proposed net neutrality rules. Dorgan, the senior member of the Commerce Committee, suggested that the congressional contribution to the initial network neutrality efforts could include some deadlines, to help move the process of adoption along. The good political feelings might extend across the aisle, thanks to an olive branch extended by Chairman Genachowski which halted the development of a Republican-sponsored amendment that would tie up FCC funding. That bill however, produced in angry response to the GOP’s disapproval of net neutrality, didn’t have much of a chance because of the Democrat’s hold on the senate majority.
Senate support has also been joined with a thumbs up from representatives of corporate world as Amazon, Facebook, and Google have voiced their approval of these rules in a letter to the FCC earlier today. They make a pretty good point about net neutrality, suggesting that it will allow more applications to be developed and shared because creators will not be deterred by the possibility of having their content blocked or sidelined. However, the approval is not universal. AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon have spearheaded the opposition force, citing, among other things, the difficulties of net neutrality in a wireless interface.
We’re in dire need of some governmental commentary on free speech and the web, as the Red Lion v. FCC case becomes increasingly obsolete. This case, as Prof. Jack Balkin described today in class, relies heavily on the fact that sound information policy is premised on people’s role as passive information consumers. Before Web 2.0, they didn’t have the opportunity to easily become active producers of knowledge with a readily accessible audience which includes other content producers. With the entire business model of today’s new media grounded strongly in a participatory consumer culture, we can no longer apply the rules of the game from when media was a one-sided discussion.