FCC Chair Vows 'Unfettered' Internet Access

FCC chief says network operators can charge for differentiated services, but can't block access to Internet.
Posted January 18, 2006

Roy Mark

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin is worried about mounting rumors of a proposed "two-tiered" broadband delivery system by the Baby Bells.

Under the plan being quietly pushed in Congress by the Bells, broadband providers would be able to charge Internet companies, such as Yahoo, Google and Amazon, an extra fee to deliver high-bandwidth content and services to consumers.

Martin told a Consumer Electronics Show crowd in Las Vegas on Friday that broadband providers have the right to sell differentiated services, but consumers should have the ability to access any legal content on the Internet.

Internet companies and consumer advocates did not question the right of the Bells to charge a fee, but they are concerned the proposed pricing scheme will ultimately price out smaller firms hoping to deliver high-speed services.

"It is critical that consumers have unfettered access to the Internet and all the services it provides," said Martin. "Washington could be concerned if providers were to block access to information and sites traditionally available on the Internet."

In August, the FCC issued a statement of principle that consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice, run applications and services of their choice and plug in and run legal devices of their choice.

The FCC also said consumers have a right to competition among network, application, service and content providers.

"Consumers have demanded this ability, and cable and telephone companies have delivered it," Martin said in August. "In a competitive marketplace, providers must do so. They provide a service consumers want or they do not succeed."

The FCC's statement of principle, however, has no force of law.

In his Las Vegas appearance on Friday, Martin dodged questions on whether service providers can cut financial deals with network operators for higher speeds than similar providers can afford.

Hoping to avoid what is quickly becoming known among deregulatory advocates as "anticipatory" rulemaking, Martin said FCC action isn't necessary in the absence of any real evidence of network operator blocking access to some parts of the Internet.

This article was first published on OpticallyNetworked.com.

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