The FCC's network neutrality proposals got 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 an FCC workshop Tuesday (Jan. 19)
focusing on the FCC'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.
He 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 Leibowitz also distanced himself from the more extreme
gloom-and-doom rhetoric of network neutrality rule proponents as well as
"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."