Inside net neutrality with FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell

Billions of dollars are at stake in the FCC's net neutrality rulemaking, which could mandate rules for broadband Internet access over wireless and wireline networks.

To date, network operators decide on their own how to comply with voluntary net neutrality standards, which call for enabling subscriber choice when it comes to sending and receiving lawful content, running lawful applications and services, and connecting devices to their computers, laptops and mobile phones as along as those devices do not damage providers' networks.

Now, the FCC is evaluating whether to change these voluntary standards into mandatory rules, which would limit broadband network operators' discretion to do what they want.The FCC is also determining whether to restrict network operators from offering premium service options to content, application and service providers (the so-called non-discriminatory standard) and to compel network operators to disclose network management information so users can ascertain if they are getting the services they are paying for (the network management standard).

Service quality and speed differentiations are increasingly feasible due to technological innovations, and, some argue, desirable because they would stimulate investment. If the FCC were to permit differentiated service quality, network operators could enable content, application and service entrants to take on incumbents more effectively, and network equipment manufacturers could develop new ways to manage traffic and service quality.

The commission wishes to stimulate innovation and investment, and the net neutrality inquiry enables it to address network management technologies and practices and their impacts on Internet content, application and access markets, even though the inquiry formally addresses access.

A crucial part of the FCC rule-making process involves seeking comments from industry participants, public interest organizations and citizens.