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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

April 28, 2010 at 2:56 PM

FCC “Open Internet” forum in Seattle draws a few minor jabs, cheers

A panel of academics, wireless executives and others headlined a public forum the FCC held in Seattle today to solicit public input on how to preserve the “Open Internet.”

“Open Internet” in this case applies to the discussion of new regulations that would prevent Internet service providers from throttling their pipes or restricting any particular type of content.

Someone must have hired a PR. firm because “Open Internet” is more catchy than “net neutrality,” but either way it’s still a confusing policy hairball.

About 70 people attended the hearing at the Jackson Federal Building, including a blend of “Open Internet” activists and telecommunications lawyers and lobbyists monitoring the situation.

Nobody came out and spoke against having an open Internet, of course, although Washington Policy Center small business director Carl Gipson questioned whether new regulations will help consumers or increase costs.

The first applause came late in the nearly four-hour session, when Gigi Sohn, president of Washington, D.C., advocacy group Public Knowledge, fired up on the topic of whether telecom companies can prioritize Internet traffic.

“Who chooses winners and losers in the marketplace?” she said. “Who chooses who gets to be prioritized? Is it the access provider or is it you?”

Sohn said the FCC’s process of creating Open Internet rules is a good start. But she suggested applying existing telecommunications rules to broadband, including 75-year-old provisions of the Communications Act that prevent phone companies from discriminating or giving preferences.

Representatives of Clearwire and T-Mobile USA said their mobile broadband services are creating new competition and provide open access, although they both said some forms of prioritization are needed to maintain service quality.

Clearwire, for instance, will limit the heaviest data users during congestion to be sure the service is available broadly, said Mike Sievert, chief commercial officer of the Kirkland-based company.

“Some reasonable network management probably makes sense,” he said.

More detal about the FCC review and opportunities to submit comments are available at www.openinternet.gov.

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