FCC spells out possible new mandates for broadband providers

Steve Largent, president of the wireless association CTIA, said new rules for wireless carriers are "unncecessary and should not be applied to the wireless ecosystem."

He took it as a positive sign that the FCC is looking at wireless traffic separately from wireline traffic. "We are happy the Chairman and the Commissioners realize that wireless is different," he said.

In the document, the FCC also lays out possible mandates to rein in the nascent practice of selling "managed services" that give content providers paid access to a throughway that is faster and more reliable than the "public Internet." Content providers could pay to send high-bandwidth applications and content via these services.

The commission said concerns about the growth of these services center around the following fears: that these services will undercut open Internet rules, supplant the Internet and lead to anti-competitive conduct.

If these fears are realized, "the open Internet may wither as an open platform for competition, innovation and free expression," the document said.

To prevent that, the FCC could limit what managed services broadband providers may offer, mandate that providers make capacity available for the public Internet and create rules for how providers advertise managed services. It could also force providers to offer the same rates to all content providers.

The notice seemed to receive positive feedback from industry groups. NCTA chief executive Kyle McSlarrow said it "raises important and complex issues and we will provide our input."

AT&T's senior executive vice president for external & legislative affairs Jim Cicconi noted "progress" on net-neutrality issues.

"We have participated constructively throughout the Commission's open Internet proceeding, and will continue to do so. We've worked hard to find common ground on these difficult issues and feel good progress has been made," he said. "In particular, we feel a path can be found that addresses concerns about Internet openness, while at the same time preserving jobs and protecting needed investment." 

Randolph May, president of the free-market think tank Free State Foundation, said seeking further comment was a "wise" move by the commission. 

"Seeking further comment on the issues relating to specialized services and wireless platforms can only serve to further clarify the issues and, potentially, bridge differences," he said.

Public-interest groups who support net-neutrality seemed to see the move as dithering. Consumer-interest group Public Knowledge (PK) said that the FCC is not breaking ground.

"We note that both of the issues on which the FCC seeks public comment, dealing with specialized services and the status of wireless services in an open Internet, were extensively explored in not one, but two proceedings pending at the commission in which comments were submitted," said PK President Gigi Sohn.

Media Access Project's associate director, Matt Wood, saw the document as repetitive. "The commission asks the same questions time and time again about wireless broadband services and specialized services, instead of providing basic answers on the basis of the robust record it already has compiled," he said.

Free Press's research director Derek Turner wants the commission to get moving. 

"The FCC continues to kick the can down the road and prolong this process, but the longer the FCC ponders the politics of Net Neutrality, the longer consumers are left unprotected. It is time for the FCC to stop writing notices and start making clear rules of the road," he said.