At its Thursday open meeting, the FCC announced that they will ask the public to weigh-in on the network neutrality debate.
The Commission Republican majority has said there is a lack of examples from the public of violations of its internet freedom principles. He would like to get concrete examples of how networks are blocking or restricting access to sites and services.
As Commissioner Robert McDowell put it--the notice of inquiry essentially casts a very wide net to catch examples of abuse if they exist.
Commission Democrats Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps agreed to open the inquiry, but suggested the FCC could do more. They said the commission should have proposed a rule adding an enforceable nondiscrimination principle to the FCC's current principles of access to content, connect devices, and have access to competing service and content providers.
Copps said the FCC was at a crossroads. It can either encourage internet freedom and innovation or let networks build online toll booths and gated communities.
The inquiry does ask whether such a nondiscrimination principle should be added and how it should be defined.
Commissioner Robert McDowell made the point that the FCC had received no formal or informal network neutrality complaints. A staffer agreed, and said it made it tough to write the notice when there was a lack of real problems to address.
FCC chairman Kevin Martin said he was not aware of the network neutrality problems Copps and Adelstein saw, but echoed McDowell that the proceeding provided an opportunity to build a record of such problems if they existed.
Bring it on said AT&T, whose Chairman, Ed Whittaker, helped spark the whole network neutrality debate, though the dry tinder had already been supplied by the Supreme Court's Brand X decision upholding the FCC's ruling that broadband service provided by cable and, then telcos and power companies and, now wireless providers, was an information, not a telecommunications service, and thus not subject to mandatory access regulations.
Saying the FCC was seeking to "establish the facts surrounding the 'network neutrality' issue," AT&T added in a statement: "[W]e applaud the FCC for launching this important proceeding. We finally will move the debate from fiction to fact.
"Real evidence presented in the record will show vast consumer benefits of decreasing broadband prices, faster broadband speeds and greater broadband deployment."