On September 1, 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) initiated a further inquiry in the agency's net neutrality proceeding. In the Public Notice (PN) commencing the inquiry, the Commission stated that the discussion generated by its 2009 Net Neutrality NPRM "appears to have narrowed disagreement on many of the key elements" of the FCC's net neutrality proposal. Among the key elements identified by the FCC are (1) transparency, (2) the ability of consumers to attach non-harmful devices to the network and access the lawful content and applications of their choice, (3) the ability of broadband providers to engage in reasonable network management practices and (4) that enforcement of high-level rules through case-by-case adjudication is a better policy approach than promulgating detailed, prescriptive rules.
The PN notes, however, "that there are two complex issues . . . that merit further inquiry"—namely, (1) the relationship between net neutrality protections and "managed" or "specialized" services, and (2) the application of net neutrality rules to mobile wireless Internet access services, which have technological characteristics that are different than wireline offerings.
Specialized Services. The PN notes that broadband providers may offer consumers certain specialized services over the same last-mile facilities that they use to provide broadband Internet access service. The PN identifies a number of concerns about these specialized services, including whether broadband providers could bypass net neutrality protections by offering consumers specialized services instead of services that meet the definition of broadband Internet access service. The PN then proposes various policy approaches that the FCC could adopt to address these concerns. Among the identified policy approaches are (1) allowing broadband providers to offer only a limited set of specialized services, and (2) requiring broadband providers to expand their network capacity.
Wireless Broadband. The PN also asks commenters to update the record on certain questions relating to the application of net neutrality rules to wireless broadband offerings in light of recent developments. The PN identifies the introduction of usage-based pricing plans and the joint Google-Verizon net neutrality proposal as examples of recent developments. The PN asks for commenters to address (1) what disclosure requirements are appropriate in the wireless context to ensure that consumers can make informed choices, (2) the ability of consumers to attach third-party devices to mobile wireless networks and (3) how to maximize consumer choice with respect to mobile applications while also ensuring continued private investment and competition in mobile wireless broadband services.
Comments are due 30 days after publication of the PN in the Federal Register and reply comments are due 25 days later.