FCC Chair Says Commission Has Authority To Enforce Net Neutrality - InformationWeek

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FCC Chair Says Commission Has Authority To Enforce Net Neutrality

AT&T chief Whitacre pledges not to block or degrade independent services as the network neutrality issue takes center stage at the TelecomNext show.

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- OK, so maybe Vonage and Google aren't nuts after all.

Reversing his rhetorical field a bit, AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre on Tuesday declared that his company won't try to block or degrade customers' access to Internet applications or content, a marked change of tone from his previous statements on the issue of network neutrality. And Federal Communications Chairman Kevin Martin said that his agency has the authority to police any so-called net neutrality violations, both in the voice and video arenas.

Both messages were sent to the keynote speech audience here at the TelecomNext show to support the idea that new legislation or regulation to specifically encode net neutrality beliefs into law isn't needed. Whitacre, who last year told BusinessWeek in an interview that Google and Vonage were "nuts" for thinking they could "use these [AT&T's] pipes for free" -- comments that sparked much of the fear and loathing in the net neutrality debate -- on Tuesday admitted that any service provider who tried to block or degrade Internet services would be committing economic suicide.

"Any provider who blocks access to the Internet is inviting customers to find another provider," Whitacre said in his keynote speech. "It's bad business." He then emphatically stated that AT&T would not block independent services, "nor will we degrade [Internet access]. Period, end of story."

In a question-and-answer period in front of the keynote audience, Martin said that "I do think the commission has the authority necessary" to enforce network neutrality violations, noting that the FCC had in fact done so in the case last year involving Madison River's blocking of Vonage's VoIP service.

"We've already demonstrated we'll take action if necessary," Martin said.

However, Martin also added that he supports network operators' desires to offer different levels of broadband service at different speeds, and at different pricing -- a so-called "tiered" Internet service structure that opponents say could give a market advantage to deep-pocket companies who can afford to pay service providers for preferential treatment.

While Martin said that consumers who don't pay for higher levels of Internet service shouldn't expect to get higher levels of performance, he did say in a following press conference that "the commission needs to make sure" that there are fair-trade ways to ensure that consumers "get what they are purchasing." When asked how consumers could measure service performance levels, Martin said that public Web sites already exist that let users measure their connection speeds.

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