Net neutrality advocates argue that formal regulations are needed because broadband providers could decide to block or slow some Web sites or applications in favor of others. Since the FCC deregulated network sharing rules in 2005, Web users have few choices for broadband providers and not many options for alternative service if their providers start blocking some Web content, Net neutrality advocates say.
But opponents of Net neutrality say new rules aren't needed. The FCC has taken action against broadband providers in just two cases, including one in which Comcast was accused of widespread slowing of the BitTorrent peer-to-peer service. New regulations could slow or halt new broadband investment, making it difficult to meet President Barack Obama's goal of bringing broadband to all U.S. residents, opponents say.
In addition to opposition from large broadband providers AT&T and Verizon Communications, a group of about 90 U.S. lawmakers raised concerns about new regulations in the past week. In addition, 44 telecom-related companies, including Cisco Systems, Alcatel-Lucent, Motorola and Nokia, wrote a letter to the FCC opposing new rules, as well as several minority groups concerned about the effect on broadband deployment.
On the other side are 28 digital rights and consumer groups, including Free Press and Public Knowledge, Internet pioneers including Vint Cerf and David Reed, and top executives of Web-based companies, including Google, Amazon.com, eBay, and Facebook.
On Wednesday, 30 tech-focused venture capitalists sent a letter to the FCC supporting new rules, and this week, more than 20,000 U.S. residents have signed a letter calling for Net neutrality rules, according to Save the Internet, a pro-Net neutrality group.
Obama and Genachowski, both Democrats, have both said Net neutrality rules are among their top tech priorities. Genachowski said the rules as proposed are not perfect or set in stone.
But FCC member Meredith Attwell Baker, a Republican, questioned whether the FCC has the authority to regulate broadband, even though she said the rulemaking process presents "thoughtful" questions about Internet freedoms.
New rules could hamper innovation from broadband providers and slow the jobs created through the Internet, she said. "I don't want to get in the way of that," she added. "If innovation and investment are confined to the corners of the Internet, consumers will suffer."