Tech
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Pro-net neutrality groups silent on Facebook smartphone

Rumors of a Facebook phone for U.S. consumers — codenamed “Buffy“ – has the tech blogosphere wondering whether it would like the new device, but pro-net neutrality groups remain silent on whether such devices violate the very principles of preserving an “open Internet” which they fought to uphold, pursued through the Federal Communications Commission’s “Open Internet” rules.

The FCC’s so-called net neutrality rules took effect Nov. 20, only weeks after Senate Democrats lead the charge to shoot down a Republican-led effort to overturn the agency’s regulation, which many who oppose deemed illegal and innovation killing. Supporters of the FCC’s rules claimed that they were a necessary preemption against Internet Service Providers like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast who could potentially grant certain Internet companies an advantage over companies because they paid a premium for superior service.

The Facebook phone, while only a rumor at this point for U.S. consumers, already enjoys a wide user base across Europe and Africa. The new phone is speculated to run on a modified version of the most recent update to the Android operating system, but will not run Android apps. Instead, the phone would feature Facebook specific apps built with web-coding language HTML5. In addition to running Facebook-only apps, Facebook’s services would be designed into the core functionality of the phone.

Public Knowledge and Free Press, so-called “consumer advocacy groups” —  known for accepting donations from left-leaning foundations in order to advance an agenda of “media reform” — have opted to stay silent on the issue, although the organizations were rather vocal during the passage of the FCC’s rules and the defense of those rules in the Senate.

While Public Knowledge’s president and founder Gigi B. Sohn previously called the FCC’s rules “a good start,” Free Press did not think the rules went far enough and sued the FCC when the rules were published in October.

PK and Free Press did not return TheDC’s request for comment by the time of publication on whether they thought the development of devices like a so-called “Facebook phone” would violate net neutrality principles by favoring Facebook services and apps over other that of other companies.

Similar concern was echoed during the emergence of Amazon’s Kindle Fire by industry experts over a month ago over whether the device’s native “Silk Browser” violated net neutrality principles, reported POLITICO.

Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn, a harsh critic of the FCC, rebuked FCC Commissioner Michael Copps and Free Press for what she called a “collusion” over the passage of the net neutrality rules — implicated in emails between Copps and Free Press which were leaked by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch in June.

Facebook, which also remains silent on its current overall stance on net neutrality, issued a statement in 2010 that said:  “Facebook continues to support principles of net neutrality for both landline and wireless networks. Preserving an open Internet that is accessible to innovators — regardless of their size or wealth — will promote a vibrant and competitive marketplace where consumers have ultimate control over the content and services delivered through their Internet connections.”

Facebook did not return TheDC’s request for comment, as is their policy not to “comment on rumor or speculation.”

While pro-net neutrality groups claimed a victory when the rules were upheld in the Senate, the fate of the rules ultimately rests in the hands of a D.C. appellate court that overruled a similar attempt by the FCC to regulate the Internet in 2010. The current rules were drafted in response to the court decision, which deemed the agency did not possess the proper authority to institute such regulations of over ISPs.

At present, the FCC’s net neutrality regulations — passed in December 2010 — only cover ISPs.

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