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Top radio device maker backs net neutrality

A gaggle of major Internet content companies say they support the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed new net neutrality rules, and the signers of their letter include Sony Electronics.

“This framework will ensure that consumers have access to an open Internet, one that would preserve a level playing field for all participants,” they write. “And it does so without regulating the Internet but only applying basic rules of the road to the transmission services that provide access to the Internet.”

Other backers include, eBay, and Skype, all directly or indirectly involved in online audio, streaming radio, or the retailing of radio gear. I am betraying my age when I note that when I think about Sony, it’s not the PS3 that first comes to my mind, but the transistor radio revolution of the 1960s. That’s what put Sony on the international map, of course.

The FCC’s proposed new open Internet rules come in the wake of the agency’s recent legal defeat by Comcast. A DC appeals court rules that the Commission didn’t have the authority under Title I of the Communications Act’s “ancillary” powers to sanction the ISP for P2P throttling. So FCC Chair Julius Genachowski says he’s going to go with a “third way” approach— something between trying to squeak by on other sections of Title I or just declaring ISPs to be Title II common carriers, like telephone companies, thus subject to telecommunications services anti-discrimination rules.

So, in Genachowski’s words, the FCC will

“Recognize the transmission component of broadband access service—and only this component—as a telecommunications service; [italics ours]
· Apply only a handful of provisions of Title II (Sections 201, 202, 208, 222, 254, and 255) that, prior to the Comcast decision, were widely believed to be within the Commission’s purview for broadband;
· Simultaneously renounce—that is, forbear from—application of the many sections of the Communications Act that are unnecessary and inappropriate for broadband access service; and
· Put in place up-front forbearance and meaningful boundaries to guard against regulatory

Here’s a piece of Section 202 and you get the idea:

“It shall be unlawful for any common carrier to make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services for or in connection with like communication service, directly or indirectly, by any means or device, or to make or give any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person, class of persons, or locality, or to subject any particular person, class of persons, or locality to any undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage.”

As FCC attorney Austin Schlick puts it, sections 201, 202, and 208 “collectively forbid unreasonable denials of service and other unjust or unreasonable practices, and allow the Commission to enforce the prohibition. Long before the Comcast decision, access providers supporting an information service classification made clear that they did not seek to avoid enforcement of these fair-dealing principles:”

So basically it will be that ISP last mile “on ramp” to the Internet that will be regulated, not the content on the ‘Net itself. I’m unclear that it was ever the intention of the FCC to regulate content making its way across the backbone or third mile lines, but apparently this is what the Commission thinks it needs to do to go forward on a solid legal footing.

Anyway, there’s a long way to go, procedurally speaking, before this gets in cement, but  kudos for Sony and the rest of the gang for giving the approach a thumbs up.

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