Leibowitz Gives Strong Support To FCC's Net Neutrality Proposals

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The FCC's network neutrality proposals received a strong shout-out from Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz, who said that transparency and the open Internet are "critical" to consumer-friendly broadband service.

His remarks came at a Jan. 19 FCC workshop, focusing on the Federal Communications Commission's proposal to add a new transparency principle to the Internet Openness policy statement the commission's democratic majority argue needs to be expanded and codified.

Leibowitz said that effort to expand and codify the principles was necessary because, without it, "those principles are not certainties in the Internet of tomorrow."

He also said the FTC would be teaming up with the FCC to insure openness. "I welcome the FCC's involvement in this area. If this principle of transparency and disclosure is promulgated, I look forward to a close working relationship between our agencies that leverages the expertise of both on behalf of consumers."

Certainty, he argued, would be good for business as well as consumers, since bright lines could also protect reasonable network management from challenges. "Clear rules of the road, by the way, are a much better defense against a public outcry over a questionable practice that sometimes forces companies to backtrack on important investment decisions -- long after those decisions have been made," he said.

He even invoked Comcast's top policy executive. David Cohen, pointing out that he had noted in a recent blog posting that "we are all obviously better off having 'clear rules.'" To be fair, Cohen also said the company was not convinced the rules should be expanded or codified in the first place, but that if they were they should also be clear.

Leibowitz told the workshop crowd, which included four of the five commissioners and a visiting Canadian telecom official, that while reasonable network was important he also thought "some form of antidiscrimination" language was critical.

He also warned against selective reading of a 2007 FTC broadband report. That report cautioned against broad restrictions in an "unsettled, dynamic environment," but it also said to do nothing would be a problematic option, he pointed out. Adding that the report came out before the BitTorrent controversy, Comcast's blocking of p2p traffic and the FCC's subsequent smack down.

Leibowitz also said the report may have overstated competition based on FCC numbers that counted as served any zip code with as few as one Internet customer, and anticipated competition from new sources other than cable and telephone wired service that have not substantially materialized. He said that wireless broadband may become a game-changer, as the FCC has predicted, "but that day has not yet arrived."

But the FTC chairman distanced himself from the more extreme gloom-and-doom rhetoric of network neutrality rule proponents as well as opponents.

"You have really begun to cut through the dystopian futures envisioned by each side of the net neutrality debate if the other side's policy prescriptions are adopted," he said. "You seem to be headed toward a reasonable, thoughtful, pro-consumer middle ground."

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