WiFi VoIP Gets Closer as FCC Seeks Public Comment on Net Neutrality Rules

The Federal Communications Commission published an initial draft of proposed new rules (pdf) on Thursday that would, if approved, effectively make net neutrality the law of the land and open the door to WiFi VoIP as never before.

The Draft Rules to Preserve the Free and Open Internet seek to codify non-binding policy guidelines in place since 2005 and incorporate rules first elucidated last month by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (pdf) lists six terms that would prevent Internet Service Providers from denying their customers the right to use any legal applications, devices or services. The rules would also ban other forms of discrimination — although allowing for neutral, “reasonable” network management — and require that providers publish any steps they take for network management, such as throttling or metered service.

The proposed rules would apply to all providers of both wired and wireless Broadband Internet connectivity as well as to applications and service providers who deliver their products and services over Broadband or otherwise do business on the Internet. If approved, the rules would then significantly impact VoIP applications, VoIP service providers, and others such as Google, that provide voice services and communications over the Internet.

In proposing the rules, the Commission’s two Republican members concurred and dissented in part on the vote to issue the Draft. While agreeing with the concept of an open Internet, they also questioned whether the FCC has the authority to draft a net neutrality policy and cautioned that other countries could use the US government’s action as a basis for imposing more restrictive access rules in their own jurisdictions.

Public comments to the proposed rules will be sought by the FCC until January 14, with replies to those comments accepted up to March 5.

After a long and very public debate on both sides of the question, Thursday’s action finally sets in motion the arduous process of turning ideas into law. Many of the largest carriers and Broadband providers are expected to staunchly oppose the proposed rules and the rhetoric will no doubt remain thick and hoary well through the spring of 2010.

With an eye toward the high emotions already raised on both sides of the neutrality debate, Chairman Genachowski cautioned all parties as to his view of the government’s responsibility, saying the Commission’s role “should be no greater than necessary to achieve the core goal of preserving a free and open Internet…the goal is to provide a fair framework in which all participants in the Internet ecosystem can operate, ultimately minimizing the need for government involvement.”