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Julius Genachowski

Julius Genachowski

Posted: September 21, 2009 10:00 AM

The Open Internet: Preserving the Freedom to Innovate

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The Internet is the most transformational communications breakthrough of our time. It has become essential to the fabric of the daily lives of Americans.

More and more, the Internet is how we get news, information, and entertainment; how we stay in touch with our friends and family; how we work and start new businesses; how we -- and people across the globe -- learn about our communities and express points of view.

The Internet has also been an extraordinary platform for innovation, job creation, economic growth, and opportunity. It has unleashed the potential of entrepreneurs and enabled the launch and growth of small businesses across America.

The key to the Internet's success has been its openness.

The Internet was designed to be "future-proof" -- to support ideas, products, and services that today's inventors have not yet imagined. In practice, it doesn't favor or disfavor any particular content or application, but allows end users, content creators, and businesses of every size and in every sector of the economy to communicate and innovate without permission.

Notwithstanding its unparalleled record of success, today the free and open Internet faces emerging and substantial challenges.

We've already seen some clear examples of deviations from the Internet's historic openness. We have witnessed certain broadband providers unilaterally block access to VoIP applications and implement technical measures that degrade the performance of peer-to-peer software distributing lawful content. We have even seen one service provider deny users access to political content.

And as many members of the Internet community and key Congressional leaders have noted, there are compelling reasons for concern about even greater challenges to openness in the future, including reduced choice in the Internet service provider marketplace and an increase in the amount of Internet traffic, which has fueled a corresponding need to manage networks sensibly.

The rise of serious challenges to the traditional operation of the Internet puts us at a crossroads. We could see technology used to shut doors to entrepreneurs instead of opening them. The spirit of innovation stifled. A full and free flow of information compromised.

Or we could take steps to preserve a free and open Internet, helping to ensure a future of opportunity, prosperity, and the vibrant flow of information and ideas.

I believe we must choose to safeguard the openness that has made the Internet a stunning success. That is why today, I delivered a speech announcing that the FCC will be the smart cop on the beat when it comes to preserving a free and open Internet.

In particular, I proposed that the FCC adopt two new rules to help achieve this.

The first says broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications. The second says broadband providers must be transparent about their network management practices. These principles would apply to the Internet however it is accessed, though how they apply may differ depending on the access platform or technology used. Of course, network operators will be permitted to implement reasonable network management practices to address issues such as spam, address copyright infringement, and otherwise ensure a safe and secure network for all users.

I also proposed that the FCC formally enshrine the four pre-existing agency policies that say network operators cannot prevent users from accessing the lawful Internet content, applications, and services of their choice, nor can they prohibit users from attaching non-harmful devices to the network.

This is just the first step in what will be an ongoing process. While these goals are clear, the best path to achieving them is not, and involves many hard questions about how best to maximize the innovation and investment necessary for a robust and thriving Internet. That is why we have created www.OpenInternet.gov.

This site is a place to join the discussion about the free and open Internet. OpenInternet.gov is in Beta, and we'll be adding features to enable participation in the near future. I encourage you to check it out to offer your input, or simply to read or watch today's speech.

With the help of all stakeholders, the FCC can help secure a bright future for the Internet, and make sure that the garage, the basement, and the dorm room remain places where inventors can not only dream, but bring their ideas to life.

And no one should be neutral about that.

(Cross-posted on BlogBand.)