Chicago (IL) - On Monday, representatives of broadband providers stated that an agency overseeing the $4.7 billion in broadband deployment incentives will slow down the spread of Internet access to areas which are underserved and unserved. Consumer advocates say a mandate should come with this money, one insuring the Internet networks remain neutral and open to all traffic.
The government is working to create and establish guidelines for the delivery of these funds. Public interest groups feel the providers competing for these funds should have to abide by network neutrality -- meaning that Internet service providers would not be allowed to discriminate based on applications or content.
It is the responsibility of the U.S. Government to make sure that money allotted to this program is spent wisely and does the public a service. "The federal government is not a charity; it is an investor," said Ben Scott of Free Press, a media reform group. He went on to say, "What's more, it's a socially responsible investor." Ultimately taxpayers are floating the bill for this, and it should be of benefit to everyone.
When Congress passed the economic stimulus bill in the middle of February, it required the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Federal Communications Commission to establish a "nondiscrimination and network interconnection obligations" for organizations which receive broadband money.
The telecommunications industry has argued for decades that network neutrality-like requirements damage innovation, that they can't offer multiple services, and that they need to have the ability to manage their own networks. President Barack Obama has publicly backed net neutrality as far back as 2006 during his campaign.
There are already interconnection rules and net neutrality guidelines established and in place. The FCC allows broadband providers to utilize "reasonable" network management techniques for traffic management. New guidelines would take it a step further. The current net neutrality rules don't address instances where broadband providers prioritize certain types of Web traffic over other types, such as fee-for-priority services. FCC guidelines currently give customers the right to access any web content which is legal and attach any device which is legal to the network.
New guidelines would require recipients of government grants to share their lines with competitors at reasonable rates. It would also require wireless providers to allow interconnection with reasonable roaming charges.
Broadband-providers argue that the rules NTIA is trying to enforce are slowing and hindering the main goals of the stimulus package, which is job creation and economic improvement.
"The goal is to stimulate the economy and stimulate broadband deployment to underserved and unserved areas, not spend the next several months debating these issues ... in tortured detail," said Chris Guttman-McCabe VP of regulatory affairs for CTIA, a trade group which represents wireless carriers.
The addition, the excess of rules will also slow down benefits of the stimulus bill to the economy while affecting the broadband introduction to rural areas. The areas in question are typically remote or mountainous regions where building and maintaining networks will be expensive.
The addition of such strict rules and regulations could cause some broadband providers to shy away from the grants and government offerings.