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Technology neutrality policy in NTIA broadband report is great guide for FCC on Network Managment

One subject I was surprised was not discussed openly at the FCC's Harvard field hearing on: Broadband Network Managment Practices, was the U.S. Government's existing policy of "technology neutrality." (The policy is pasted at the end of this post. It comes from page 5 of the NTIA January 2008 report: Networked Nation: Broadband in America 2007.

  • Technology neutrality, which is simply the policy of government not discriminating in favor of one technology over another, has been central to the U.S. Government's free market policy towards the Internet for years.
  • The FCC implemented technology neutrality policy in applying similar information service deregulatory status to the various broadband techologies: DSL, Cable modem, Wireless Broadband and Broadband over Powerlines -- in four separate (5-0) FCC rulemakings.

Why the consistent legal precedents of technology neutrality are so relevant to the FCC's investigation of the FreePress/Vuze petitions on Comcast's network management, is that big broadband providers like Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint (among others) have very different technologies that require very different network management approaches.

  • The FCC has to be very careful in "threading the needle" that the FCC's application of its non-binding net neutrality policy statement does not conflict with its binding legal precedent of applied rules based on the U.S. Government's policy of technology neutrality (below) and Congressional policy on the Internet "to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet...unfettered by Federal or State regulation..."    

 At core the FCC has to be sure that any FCC regulatory action on network management targetted at the specific network management capabilities or deficiencies of a particular network technology, does not have the practical unintended consequence of being an anti-competitive regulation of the free market Internet.

 From the NTIA's Networked Nation, page 5:

 "Technology neutrality. A hallmark of the competitive system embraced in Telecommunications Act is consumer choice: the consumer – not government – determines what products and services are needed, the acceptable price for those products or services (i.e., what consumers are willing to pay for them), and which vendor best satisfies the consumer’s service needs. Experience teaches that when government tries to substitute its judgment for that of the free market, or otherwise anticipate consumer demand by favoring one product or vendor over another, it can easily distort the marketplace, resulting in the diversion of investment and/or discouraging the research and innovation necessary to bring new and better products or services to market.In a rapidly evolving area such as information and communication unintended effects can carry fundamental, long-term adverse consequences that extend across multiple sectors of the economy. Accordingly, especially in the area of ICT, the government should exercise care not to dictate standards, but instead should seek to foster an environment in which he potential of competitive forces can be fully realized to maximize the choices (e.g., technologies, products, services, applications, providers) available to consumers. For this reason, the Administration has consistently and strenuously advocated for technology neutrality in order to remove the government from what are more appropriately marketplace decisions.

Domestically, this policy has yielded an array of competing broadband services offered over an equally diverse variety of platforms – wireless, wireline, cable, fiber, satellite, and power line. Consumers need no longer buy discrete services from monopoly providers but can choose from among multiple service providers based on price, performance, mobility, and other features and characteristics.

Internationally, the Administration has expressed great concern whenever countries prescribe a standard for technology that impedes competition, obstructs investment, or hampers the creation of competitive markets.

The United States has actively worked to encourage all nations to open their markets, to implement measures to protect intellectual property, and to use widely adopted international standards. The Administration has also included technology neutrality principles in U.S. free trade agreements."