• 09.21.09

FCC Embraces Net Neutrality, Enforces It On ISPs

The FCC is embracing rules that enforce Net neutrality on ISPs, and in a surprisingly open way.

We’d heard beforehand that the Federal Communications Commission was going to make a big announcement embracing rules that enforce Net neutrality on ISPs. It’s gone ahead and done that, right now, in a surprisingly open way.


In a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C., FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski explained that the FCC, and the U.S. government, sees the Internet as key to the country’s future successes–and not just as a bolt-on technology, but as a vital internal component. “The fact is that we face great challenges as a nation right now, including health care, education, energy, and public safety,” he said. “While the Internet alone will not provide a complete solution to any of them, it can and must play a critical role in solving each one.”

The FCC is thus acting to preserve this “critical” independence of the Net’s services by embracing “openness”–a WWW version of glasnost, perhaps. Citing examples of the success of open-thinking initiatives like Wikipedia, YouTube, the use of Twitter by “democratic movements” and online college courses, Genachowski argues that inaction by the FCC is not an option–the way the internet works is too important to be left to the ISPs themselves, since their agenda is almost in conflict with the way the Net could be used in the future. He’s making the four already-adopted principles of Internet governance into key Commission rules, and asking for two more to be adopted: Non-discrimination and transparency. 

Boiled down to the core, these two new principles will stop the process of ISP traffic-throttling based on the content being downloaded and will force ISPs to be completely open abut their network management procedures. And these two things could be amazing, from a consumer’s point of view: ISPs will not be able to throttle your Net hook-up if you’re a heavy streaming-movie viewer, for example. 

While there are detractors, sometimes voiced from within the ISPs themselves, that argue net-neutrality could denude user experience with heavy users stealing too much of the available bandwidth, these arguments are easy to knock-down. If consumers want faster internet connections with bandwidth big enough to supply their needs in the future, then the ISPs will have to actively compete with each other to deliver it–complacency in the face of crappy U.S. broadband systems is not an option.

There’s also a wonderful, if subtle, alternative thing to think about concerning this news–or, specifically, how it’s delivered. The FCC is not known to be a massively communicative beast. It is, after all an instrument of government and governments do tend to lumber along. But Genachowski’s speech was uploaded in its entirety before he made it at the website, and a live screen-cast was also broadcast via the same service. This is an incredibly powerful display of communication to the public, perhaps drawing its power from the fact we’re not all that used to such openness. Hopefully it’s also a sign of more good things to come from the governments new “open and accountable” stance.


About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise.