Federal Trade Commission to Weigh In on Net Neutrality
August 28, 2006 Timothy Prickett Morgan
The Federal Trade Commission, the agency of the United States government that regulates commerce as it relates to consumers, announced this week that it would put its two cents in on the so-called “Net Neutrality” issue.
To simplify somewhat, some people want the Internet to remain a flat space, where no bits get preferential treatment compared to other bits, while others–mainly, the companies that comprise the backbone of the Internet–want to be able to offer tiers of Internet service and charge a premium for faster or better service. The egalitarian nature of the Internet, which was founded on open source software and funded largely by the U.S. government, is obviously in synch with Net Neutrality. Tiered service is perfectly consistent with business practices, but can also lead to a certain kind of censorship–either intentional or not–that many people think is a bad idea.
Deborah Platt Majoras, who is chairman of the FTC, said in a statement this week that the organization’s Internet Access Task Force would take on the Net Neutrality issue, since lawmakers in Congress and interested parties out there on the Internet, ranging from big software and services providers to telecommunications and cable companies, cannot come to an agreement about how to resolve the issue.
Those who were expecting the FTC to champion the Net Neutrality cause may have been disappointed by the initial comments made by Platt Majoras. “The FTC’s Internet Access Task Force is looking carefully at the issues raised by calls for network neutrality laws,” she said. “I urge caution in proceeding on the issue. I question the starting assumption that government regulation, rather than the market itself under existing laws, will provide the best solution to a problem.”
But Platt Majoras also sounded a warning shot across the bow of telcos, cable companies, and other service providers who might think that the lack of Net Neutrality issues means they can turn their bits of the Internet into profit engines.
“While I am sounding cautionary notes about new legislation, let me make clear that if broadband providers engage in anticompetitive conduct, we will not hesitate to act using our existing authority,” Platt Majoras said. “But I have to say, thus far, proponents of Net Neutrality regulation have not come to us to explain where the market is failing or what anticompetitive conduct we should challenge. We are open to hearing from them.”
So, don’t just write your members of Congress. Write the chairman of the FTC, too.