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FCC chairman: Net neutrality must be preserved

As devices like the iPhone make the Web an even more integral part of Americans' daily lives, it is important that the Internet remains an open system, Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said Monday.

In a speech delivered at The Brookings Institution in Washington D.C., Genachowski outlined a list of six principles he believes the FCC should follow, and also proposed methods tto achieve those principles. In his address, Genachowski specifically cited the iPhone as a "path-breaking" device that has "enabled millions of us to carry the Internet in our pockets and purses."

He stressed that it is important for the Internet to remain a free and open place, noting that recently some broadband providers have blocked or slowed access to Voice Over IP services and peer-to-peer downloading software.

"In view of these challenges and opportunities, and because it is vital that the Internet continue to be an engine of innovation, economic growth, competition and democratic engagement," Genachowski said, "I believe the FCC must be a smart cop on the beat preserving a free and open Internet."

He proposed that the commission adopt the four principles previously laid out by former Chairman Michael Powell in 2004, known as the "Four Freedoms," as well as two new principles he believes should be added to the list. The six are:

  • Freedom to access legal content
  • Freedom to use applications of the users' choice
  • Freedom to attach personal devices to connections in users' homes
  • Freedom to obtain service plan information
  • Non-discrimination: Broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications
  • Transparency: Providers must be transparent about network management practices

The statements are a major benefit for Apple, which delivers music and movies to millions of users through iTunes. Without Net neutrality, bandwidth for content providers like iTunes could potentially be "throttled," or even altogether blocked, by Internet service providers.

But with regards to its own devices and the AT&T network, Apple has also been on the restrictive side — particularly with respect to Powell's second "freedom," regarding applications. After the Google Voice telephony service was not allowed into the iPhone App Store by Apple, the FCC launched an investigation into the matter. How Genachowski's proposal could affect wireless carriers like AT&T, or handset makers like Apple that engage in exclusive contracts, is not yet clear.

In support of the initiative for a free and open Internet, the FCC launched a new Web site,, Monday. It invites discussion from citizens on the Net neutrality issue, with Genachowski noting that while the goals are clear, "the best path to achieving them is not."

"We are here because 40 years ago, a bunch of researchers in a lab changed the way computers interact and, as a result, changed the world," Genachowski said to close his speech. "We are here because those Internet pioneers had unique insights about the power of open networks to transform lives for the better, and they did something about it. Our work now is to preserve the brilliance of what they contributed to our country and the world. It’s to make sure that, in the 21st century, the garage, the basement, and the dorm room remain places where innovators can not only dream but bring their dreams to life. And no one should be neutral about that."