Will Internet Freedom Be Preserved And Expanded In 2013?

    January 13, 2013

CES 2012 was overshadowed by the looming threat of SOPA. At the time, Congressmen Ron Wyden and Darrell Issa met with the tech industry to drum up support for their SOPA alternative – OPEN. SOPA eventually was declared officially dead late last year, but Wyden is back at CES 2013 with a laundry list of proposed legislation that could affect the tech industry in profound ways.

The Hill reports that Wyden spoke on a number of issues facing the tech industry this year in a speech entitled “The Freedom to Compete.” While he was primarily speaking from a business perspective, he encouraged innovation that would bring new freedoms to the Internet in 2013.

Do you think 2013 will bring new Internet freedoms? Or will special interests get in the way of meaningful innovation and reform? Let us know in the comments.

The idea of people, businesses and others having the freedom to compete is the centerpiece of Wyden’s policy suggestions going into the new year. He says that the Internet is threatened by economic stagnation brought upon by “established economic interests:”

The incumbents often seek special help from the government, claiming they want a marketplace from government intervention; but they don’t get it. The role of the government is to address market failures, and to block cartels, monopolies, and anti-competitive forces that interfere with the effective operation of free enterprise. A legitimate function of the government is to defend the market against the forces interfering with its efficient function.

To effectively break through this stagnation, Wyden calls upon the innovators of our time to “play offense around an agenda for Internet innovation.” To do that, the senator has a number of proposed policies that he hopes will make the Internet more free to innovation in 2013

First and foremost, Wyden wants to protect consumers and businesses from ISPs throttling traffic. His goal is to classify such actions as being in violation of antitrust laws:

“If a provider wishes to slow consumers’ Internet connections in order to discriminate against a provider of content, my view is that they should face the antitrust laws. Sen. Franken and I are working on legislation to do just that — to strengthen the antitrust laws in order to ensure that the major ISPs cannot use their market dominance to pick online winners and losers.”

He also criticizes the FCC’s weak net neutrality laws that don’t cover all forms of online communication:

Here is what the freedom to compete in the marketplace means. First, it begins with access to the Internet. Internet Service Providers – wired or wireless – must be barred from practices that discriminate against specific content. The Open Internet order established by the FCC is a good start but it doesn’t go far enough because, in reality, it is not comprehensive. Most of Las Vegas this week, for example, will access the Internet through their wireless connection, which is not fully subject to the FCC order.

Currently, being found in violation of FCC rules is pretty much equatable to a slap on the wrist. Turning net neutrality into an antitrust issue would turn the eye of the FTC onto ISPs and cable providers – something that these corporations would probably want to avoid.

Wyden also spoke briefly on software patents, a rather contentious topic since patent trolls began suing legitimate companies for using common functions, like text entry on a Web page:

A related concern is the affect of software patents on America’s ability to innovate. Congress should begin a review – a cost-benefit analysis – of software patents’ contribution to the economy. The acquisition of these patents appears less about deploying innovation and more about employing a legal arsenal. The patent system should not, as Julie Samuels at EFF says, operate as a tax on innovation, as it does now. How are you promoting innovation if you stand behind a law that enables a few lines of code to be patentable for 20 years? Software is different than a new invention. It is a building block — a new set of instructions — that should be continually built upon and improved.

Wyden also touched upon his broadband data cap bill from last year that would have prevented ISPs from monetizing data consumption for no reason other than greed:

The Internet is too important to our common interest to enable bits and bytes to be viewed only in terms of dollars and cents. It is time for legislation to establish disciplines on data caps that give innovators and entrepreneurs the opportunity that is a pillar of our nation’s economy: the freedom to compete. Promoting this freedom begins with the Internet connection, but it must be rooted throughout the Internet ecosystem.

Do you think Wyden’s policy proposals will bring new freedom to users and businesses on the Internet? Should Congress makes these a priority in 2013? Let us know in the comments.

Up until now, you could argue that Wyden has been directly addressing how the Internet can better serve innovators, entrepreneurs and businesses in 2013. What about protections for the common Internet user? Wyden has some ideas that he’s ready to start working on this year.

For starters, he says that cyber security is incredibly important, but last year’s CISPA was the wrong way to go about it:

Let’s address the goals of CISPA without creating a cyber-industrial complex that would produce an endless, losing, cat-and-mouse game in which nimble hackers win all the time. And let’s make sure cyber security isn’t used in a way that exposes the electronic communication of every American to government and corporate snoops.

In a bold move, Wyden also calls out copyright maximalists as a cause of economic and creative stagnation:

But what chills the sharing of ideas and collaboration is the maximalist approach to copyrights and patents. Rights-holders are too eager to use their power to scare off challenges to the status quo, and this perpetuates stagnation. Indisputably, the protection of intellectual property is important. The balance between providing rights-holders a monopoly and promoting competition and innovation is just as important. It must be continually re-examined and reconsidered.

Despite these policies being little more than pipe dreams, it instills a hope that the Internet may truly be a better place in 2013 despite the looming threat of multiple parties that want to control it. Ron Wyden isn’t the only Congressman either that is advocating for Internet freedom that would help innovative businesses thrive and consumers safe from the prying eyes of corporations and governments.

Before we get to any of the above, however, maybe Wyden and his allies can take care of FISA first?

Do you think 2013 will be a year of Internet freedom? Could Wyden’s proposed policies help usher such an era? Let us know in the comments.