The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced the membership list of a newly established net neutrality oversight panel, including Disney, Netflix, AT&T and Mozilla. The new Open Internet Advisory Committee is tasked with monitoring the implementation and impact of the FCC’s net-neutrality order, which was narrowly approved by the FCC in 2010. Two Republican commissioners voted against the rules, with three Democrat commissioners voting in favor of the rules. With Republican control of the House after the 2010 elections, net neutrality was predicted to be controversial subject in 2011.
President Barack Obama wholeheartedly supported the FCC action at the time, and was quoted at the time the rules were adopted: "This decision is an important component of our overall strategy to advance American innovation, economic growth, and job creation."
The rules adopted by the FCC in 2010 ban cable television and telephone service providers from restricting access to competitors or certain web sites such as Netflix. The rules also include some restrictions for wireless providers. However, the new rules will not prevent ISPs from charging higher fees for faster access. Republicans in Congress publicly announced plans to reverse the rules through legislation, and the rule still faces significant court challenges.
Harvard Law professor Jonathan Zittrain will serve as chairman of the oversight committee, while David Clark, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and early Internet pioneer, will serve as co-chairman. The membership of the committee does not include some of the most vocal opponents of net neutrality, but some of the companies represented are less than enthusiastic about the rules established by the FCC.
With many Internet service providers blasting the FCC's net-neutrality order when it was adopted, AT&T took a more moderate stance. AT&T Vice President Jim Cicconi initially praised the FCC for “seeking a fair middle ground in this contentious debate." Since the regulations were adopted, the FCC has continued to express confidence that the legal foundation and authority to enforce net neutrality is solid.
Verizon was one of the more vocal opponents, and challenged the net neutrality regulations in federal court. The Verizon Court filing stated: "The net neutrality rules are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion of the Administrative Procedure Act, contrary to constitutional right and otherwise contrary to law."(The Verizon case is Verizon v. FCC, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, case N. 11-1355.)
Verizon went even further in a release announcing the filing of the lawsuit:
"We are deeply concerned by the FCC's assertion of broad authority for sweeping new regulation of broadband networks and the Internet itself. We believe this assertion of authority goes well beyond any authority provided by Congress and creates uncertainty for the communications industry, innovators, investors, and consumers."
On the other side of the spectrum, public interest groups such as Free Press filed suit in Boston, challenging the latitude afforded to wireless broadband providers in managing networks.
The net neutrality rules adopted by the FCC prevent Internet service providers from discriminating between two similar content providers by slowing down or speeding up access to their sites.
The advisory panel, which was established by the 2010 order, will have the authority to make recommendations to the commission about the implementation of net neutrality, and on all matters related to the general goal of preserving an open Internet.
Rounding out the companies represented on the FCC panel are Comcast, Cisco and Alcatel-Lucent. The Writers Guild of America and the National Urban League were also given two positions on the committee.