FCC Commission Members Differ over Network Openness Proposals

By Ed Silverstein December 13, 2010

Differences are surfacing between an FCC commission member and the commission’s chairman over the “openness” of wired versus wireless networks.

Federal Communications Commission member, Mignon Clyburn, told a Practicing Law Institute conference last week in Washington, D.C., that “It is essential that … wireless networks … grow in an open way just as our wired ones have.”

“There is already consensus that an open Internet is critical for America,” Clyburn said. “We are aware of some actions that have threatened its openness, and as such, I believe we should act to ensure that the Internet remains open, so that innovation and investment can flourish.”

“At the end of the day for me, this is about consumers,”Clyburn added. “Their access to an open Internet must be protected, because I believe that currently, there are no clear, enforceable rules.”

Reuters reported that FCC Commission Chairman, Julius Genachowski said rules on wireless broadband ought to be “more flexible” because wireless “is newer than Terrestrial  Internet service.”

Last week, Genachowski released a plan that stresses an open Internet and prevents Internet Service Providers from blocking lawful content, according to TechZone360.

His plan is expected to be discussed later this month at an FCC meeting.

Clyburn acknowledges there are differences between the two kinds of networks – wired and wireless – but said in her speech that “equality” is important given how a number of Americans are “cutting the cord” and using wireless devices to connect to the Internet.

“We should ensure that, while there are two kinds of networks, we don’t cause the development of two kinds of Internet worlds,” Clyburn explained. “Aside from technical differences, the basic user experience should be the same.”

Clyburn said certain features of the wireless market lead to high switching costs. These include  “exorbitant ETFs” and the “lack of handset compatibility across carriers.”

Clyburn acknowledged that some observers argue that different rules are needed for wireless because “it is more competitive than the wired world.” 

Congressional action is possible on the issue, in addition to any decisions coming from the FCC.

Based on recent statements, U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), who is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, apparently backs open rules for the Internet as articulated by Genachowski.

Ed Silverstein is a TechZone360 contributor. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jaclyn Allard

TechZone360 Contributor

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