WASHINGTON, June 17, 2010 –In response to the recent Third Way announcement made by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, a group of internet service providers, content creators and hardware makers have joined to form a working group to discuss the issues surrounding network neutrality. This new organization called the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group will be headed by Professor Dale Hatfield of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Professor Hatfield was the chief technologist at the FCC from 1997 to 2000.
The organization will have three main goals “(1) educating policymakers on such technical issues; (2) attempting to address specific technical matters in an effort to minimize related policy disputes; and (3) serving as a sounding board for new ideas and network management practices.”
By including a large share of the stakeholders, the organization hopes to be able to come to a consensus which it can then bring to either the FCC or Congress. “This joint effort by industry leaders provides an exciting opportunity to address key operational challenges facing the Internet user experience,” said Leslie Daigle, chief internet technical officer of the Internet Society. “The Internet Society believes this activity is an important contribution to the ongoing global, open technical dialog and looks forward to seeing its output appropriately integrated with the work of existing Internet standards activities.”
The organization plans to function as a neutral party which only discusses the technical practices used by the industry. “The BITAG would consider a number of factors in looking at technical practices, including whether a practice is used by others in the industry; whether alternative technical approaches are available; the impact of a technical practice on other entities; and whether a technical practice is aimed at specific content, applications or companies,” Hatfield said.
Currently the organization has representatives from AT&T, Cisco Systems, Comcast Corporation, DISH Network, EchoStar, Google, Intel, Level 3 Communications, Microsoft, Time Warner Cable and Verizon. While the organization does represent a number of interests there is currently no user or consumer group which has joined BITAG.
In a post on the official AT&T Blog, Vice President Brent Olson said of the group: “While there is more work to be done over the coming weeks to formalize the group, we are proud to be a participant in its formation. This effort demonstrates the interdependence of all players and their mutual interest in and desire for innovation in the internet platform. We look forward to working collaboratively with all participants to ensure its success.”
The media advocacy organization Free Press was pleased by the creation of BITAG they do believe that ultimately the issue needs to be solved by the FCC. “There must be a separate FCC rulemaking process, which can take the recommendations of this or any other voluntary advisory group into account, but rubber-stamping those recommendations would ignore the agency’s mandate to create public policy in the public interest. Allowing industry to set its own rules is like allowing BP to regulate its drilling. The Comcast BitTorrent case shows that without government oversight, Internet Service Providers will engage in what are already deemed by engineers to be bad practices” said Free Press Policy Counsel M. Chris Riley.
BITAG member Google also believes that the group is just an advisory group and will not set rules. “Further, the purpose of the BITAG is not to replace the oversight and enforcement authority of the FCC or any other government body. Rather, we hope the BITAG can bring together some of the smartest technical minds in this space to provide some useful guidance to policymakers and Internet stakeholders alike,” said Richard Whitt, Washington telecom and media counsel.