On Monday, FCC Chair Julius Genachowski announced the commission’s support of net neutrality, a principle which holds that Internet Service Providers (e.g. Comcast, Verizon, Time-Warner, AT&T) should not be permitted to discriminate against specific online content or applications and privilege other content with higher quality service.

In introducing the National Broadband Plan, Genachowski, described some of the threats to an open internet posed by the absence of a strong net neutrality policy:

We have witnessed certain broadband providers unilaterally block access to VoIP applications (phone calls delivered over data networks) and implement technical measures that degrade the performance of peer-to-peer software distributing lawful content. We have even seen at least one service provider deny users access to political content.

The new policy goals also require that ISPs make transparent to the public their network management policies.

Opponents of net neutrality have claimed that many wireless service providers do not have the capacity to move all data (including the download of large video files) indiscriminately and that if the FCC’s policy goals become law, ISPs would experience increased burdens on bandwidth, and be restrained in how they could manage these burdens thus leading to a degradation of service.

However, the growth of demand for new services and innovative applications can stimulate investment in increasing broadband capacity. As the CEO of Skype, the most popular VoIP application, puts it: “applications like Skype can grow the entire broadband pie,” he said. “We’re saying, let’s look at the investment incentives for everyone in this ecosystem, not just carriers.” (The new rules would make it impossible for Apple phones operating through the At&T network to block competing applications like Skype.)

The FCC has provided information on its policy and invited commentary from the public through its new openinternet.gov website.

A bill supporting net neutrality was introduced in Congress last month by Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009 (H.R. 3458).

Additional coverage of Genachowski’s speech is available here.