Microsoft Tilts From Net Neutrality in FCC Filing

As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wrapped up its comment period for interested parties to reply to its proposed open Internet rule-making proceedings this week, Microsoft weighed in with its own perspective on net neutrality.

Although the software giant has a vested interest in ensuring that its numerous Web applications and services are delivered to consumers without interference from an ISP, it warned against “the adoption of unnecessary or insufficiently tailored regulations, such as a prohibition on all types of discrimination.”

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) submitted its reply on Monday, the final day for submissions to the FCC.

Although Microsoft qualifies as an interested party on a number of levels, from MSN to the Bing search engine to online video streaming in Silverlight, it appears to be trying to stay out of the fray when it comes to clashes with other interested parties. At the same time, however, the company showed it wants to get its two-cents’ worth in.

“Although the actions the Commission takes, or fails to take, in this proceeding will have far reaching consequences for the open Internet, the record reveals often sharp disagreement regarding the need for, and appropriate nature of, regulation as a means to preserve the open Internet,” Microsoft’s filing said.

Microsoft’s comments come as the commission is regrouping after a federal appeals court earlier this month struck down a 2008 FCC order rebuking Comcast for secretly blocking traffic on its data network.

“The National Broadband Plan recently reaffirmed [the] bedrock principle … that broadband is a powerful engine for innovation and investment in America in part because the Internet is an open platform, where anyone can communicate and do business with anyone else on a level playing field,” Microsoft’s filing said.

“At the same time, the adoption of unnecessary or insufficiently tailored regulations, such as a prohibition on all types of discrimination, could have the unintended consequence of limiting innovation and investment going forward,” it continued.

Microsoft’s view has evolved

In a footnote, Microsoft admitted that its thinking on the issue has “evolved” since Craig Mundie, now Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer, first testified in a Senate hearing in 2002.

Microsoft proposed a “third way” for the FCC to proceed with its open Internet work, one that stops well short of the recommendations of outspoken open net-neutrality advocates like Google and Skype.

Microsoft suggested that the commission enshrine its current broadband policy statement, which stipulates that consumers should be allowed to access lawful content and applications on the Internet. It also endorsed the FCC’s proposal to add an additional principle obligating ISPs to make disclosures about how they manage traffic on their networks.

But it warned against FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s call for an explicit non-discrimination requirement, arguing against boxing in ISPs with regulations that would preclude them from novel methods of network management or striking side deals guaranteeing speedy delivery of certain content or applications.

“This framework would achieve a sensible balance by allowing access providers the flexibility to not only appropriately manage their networks by distinguishing among different types of traffic but also enter into business arrangements with content providers that are transparent and do not discriminate in a manner that is anticompetitive or harms consumers,” Microsoft said in its filing.

“It is neither necessary nor appropriate for the Commission to prejudge particular types of behavior through the application of rigid, proscriptive rules.”

InternetNews Associate Editor Kenneth Corbin contributed to this story.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at “>, the network for technology professionals.

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